The Public Interest

More guns, less crime?

Michael Barone

Fall 1998

GUN law is one of those areas of public policy—others are education, welfare, and crime fighting—in which national and local dialogue have sharply diverged. In each case, the “expertise” of the national elites who set federal policy is being challenged by the opinions of ordinary citizens who are increasingly winning at the state and local levels. Thus the U.S. Department of Education continues to give custody of federal education programs to the education schools and teachers’ unions that have given us “whole language,” new math, and bilingual education. These are the same ed schools and unions that have shielded teachers and administrators from accountability. But locally we are seeing an efflorescence of charter schools, vouchers, back-to-basics magnet schools, and home schooling. The Department of Health and Human Services for years resisted work requirements and other welfare reforms. But now that President Clinton has signed the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the states and localities are free to innovate-and welfare rolls are rapidly shrinking. On crime fighting, most of the criminology profession insisted for years that “root causes” made high levels of crime inevitable and called for therapy-minded solutions like midnight basketball. But local mayors and police chiefs, most notably Rudolph Giuliani and William Bratton in New York, acted on the “broken windows” theory of George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, reducing crime by percentages almost no one thought possible—50 percent in New York in four years.

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