Are we all just potential criminals?

By Jeremy D. Blanks, Ph.D.
web posted November 6, 2000

One of the more disturbing arguments used by anti-gun groups is that normal, law-abiding citizens should not be allowed to own firearms because they might just snap one day and go on a homicidal rampage. This contention has become part of the gun ban philosophy in countries throughout the world and here in the U.S. One must ask, is there any truth to this argument or is it just another example of a gun control fallacy?

The first thing the "potential criminal" theory must assume is that people who have no history of violence or crime cannot be trusted any more so than convicted criminals. Those using this argument must further believe that a large percentage of the law-abiding citizens are not of sufficient intelligence or responsibility to be entrusted to adequately lead their own lives and instead the government is a better place to put this faith. Additionally, this presumption relies upon an underlying belief that we are all just waiting to explode and turn into violent criminals through some fundamental flaw in the human character.

It is true that a few out of every million or so law-abiding citizens do commit a violent crime without having any previous criminal behavior or other warning signs. It is also fascinating to note that citizens licensed to carry concealed handguns have a lower crime rate than do police officers. Additionally, we know that career criminals commit greater than 90 per cent of violent crimes and the remaining 10 per cent of violent crimes are mostly committed by those with a background in crime or violence as a juvenile, so the incidence of honest citizens suddenly becoming violent criminals is confirmed as being miniscule. The reality is that there is a possibility, though extraordinarily small, of a citizen suddenly becoming a violent criminal. However, if a rationale analysis of this issue is carried out, then one must also ask if the small potential danger from the extremely rare case of a peaceable citizen suddenly becoming a violent criminal outweighs the overall value of firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens?

Over a dozen studies have been carried out by various pro-gun, anti-gun, neutral, and even Department of Justice investigators to determine the value of civilian gun ownership in how many times citizens use their firearms for self defense. The numbers have varied from a low of around 100,000 crimes prevented every year by armed citizens to a high of over six million crimes per year. The differences in the numbers are attributed to variations in methodology, sampling techniques, and the bias of individual researchers. While there are major differences in the aforementioned studies, the consensus is that there are several million crimes prevented each year in the U.S. by law-abiding citizens with a firearm. This is a staggering number of crimes prevented each year and it speaks volumes to the overwhelming value of gun ownership.

This issue has also been a crucial topic when concealed carry laws have been proposed in various states. Currently, 30 states allow law-abiding citizens the right to carry a concealed firearm through various licensing procedures. Another dozen states allow some form of concealed carry, although such licenses are hard to obtain by honest citizens because of the discretionary nature of the law. One state, Vermont that also happens to have the lowest crime and violence levels of any U.S. state, allows all respectable citizens the right to carry a concealed firearm. Only seven states, which interestingly happen to have some of the highest rates of crime and violence, currently prohibit all forms of concealed carry by peaceable citizens. Inevitably when concealed carry is discussed, the anti-gun side states that such laws will lead to "Wild West shootouts" and blood on our streets over minor disputes. Yet, in the 31 states that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms none of the fears raised by the anti-gun side have become reality. Instead, the opposite has occurred and the results were lower crime and violence.

George W. BushFor example, these concerns were repeatedly raised when Gov. George W. Bush of Texas signed a concealed carry law in 1995. Following the enactment of the Texas concealed carry law in 1995 and through 1997; the number of homicides had dropped 25 per cent compared to a national reduction of 16 per cent. Furthermore, the number of assaults and rapes were cut in half, which again far exceeded the national rate. Overall, the Texas crime rates have dropped to the lowest point in over 25 years following the enactment of the Texas concealed carry law. When Gov. George W. Bush said that he believed "the concealed carry law would make Texas a safer place," he was absolutely correct. The same can't be said for the outlandish scare tactics from the gun control crowd.

It is clear that the value of civilian gun ownership far outweighs the few negatives, but there is an even more distressing matter related to the "potential criminal" argument in how this theory could and inevitably would be applied to other areas besides gun ownership. If one is a parent, using the logic of the "potential criminal" philosophy, wouldn't such parents also be potential child abusers and worse? It is a sad fact that there are some that believe most parents, just like honest citizens with firearms, can't be trusted to raise their children and thus the federal government should become actively involved in all aspects of parenting. Under the "potential criminal" theory we would all become guilty until proven innocent to the satisfaction of a government bureaucrat who would act as a surrogate parent. The same approach could also easily be applied to ones religion, marriage, diet, family planning, personal finances, etc.

Clearly, the "potential criminal" theory has no foundation in preventing crime or violence and thus it should be firmly rejected. That is unless you believe the average government bureaucrat knows better how to live your life than you do.

Dr. Blanks is a Senior Research Scientist with the premier R&D company in the world. In the past, Dr. Blanks was supportive of many of the current proposals offered by gun control groups. However, through research into the effectiveness of such measures and the value of firearm ownership in the prevention of millions of crimes each year, Dr. Blanks is now an advocate for self defense and firearm ownership rights. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. Dr. Blanks can be reached at

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