Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Northwestern)
Book Review, 79 (1988): 541
Posted for Educational use only. The printed edition remains canonical. For citational use please visit the local law library or obtain a back issue.
THE CITIZEN'S GUIDE TO GUN CONTROL. Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Pp. 201. $17.95.
In this short book the authors attempt the difficult task of bridging the gap between the results of scientific studies of firearms and violence on the one hand, and public awareness on the other. By sharing their interpretation of the available data with the public, the authors hope to enlighten the debate over gun control policy. Much of the book is a non-technical review of the scholarly literature.
Although better, more recent data is available, Zimring and Hawkins rely heavily upon studies from the 1960's and in limited areas such as Chicago and Detroit. Too much of the material is a review of Newton and Zimring's 1969 commission staff report. While the authors offer many insightful criticisms of the methodology and conclusions of other recent works, they fail to note the same problems in the research on which they rely.
Although the authors fault those with whom they disagree for not providing proof or explanations, Zimring and Hawkins are themselves no better. They write, for instance, that the "available evidence suggests that probably more than 10 percent of all handguns are used in crime or serious violence, usually within a decade of first sale." (p. 96). Unfortunately, the authors never cite to the available evidence or inform the reader of how they reached this conclusion. While the casual reader may find the complete lack of footnotes and frequent lack of explanations of little consequence, the serious reader will be troubled and unsatisfied. The short set of references at the end of each chapter and occasional reference to sources in the text is not a satisfactory substitute for those wishing to pursue the topic in depth.
Zimring and Hawkins rightly criticize others who drew conclusions from very limited data. Nonetheless, they are equally guilty, concluding, for example, "[d]espite the dearth of hard evi- [Page 542] dence, there is no reason to believe that such marginal deterrence is possible." (p. 113).
At times the authors ignore recent valuable scholarship or mention it only briefly. The chapter on the second amendment, for instance, ignores two important recent works, and Wright and Rossi's valuable and relevant survey of felons and their firearms is not adequately covered.
Some readers may also become impatient with the authors' use of the book to defend some of Zimring's prior work and to attack, sometimes in an ad hominem fashion, some of Zimring's critics.
There are also occasional inaccuracies. For example, they write that it "is unlawful in Texas for anyone to carry on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddlebags, or in his portfolio or purse any pistol . . .'" (p. 123). The Texas legislature repealed this provision over a decade ago and replaced it with a statute which does not mention saddles, saddlebags, purses or portfolios.
Unlike some other works sympathetic to greater control of firearms, the book contains no overtly hostile attacks on the National Rifle Association or the "gun lobby." In fact, the authors seem capable of some sympathy for gun owners, suggesting that a
system with very high unit costs that imposed the entire burden of the cost of reducing the number of guns in civilian hands on gun owners would clearly be unfair and unacceptable. (pp. 153-54).
In addition, unlike some other advocates of handgun control, Zimring and Hawkins do concede that "handguns are used in a variety of legitimate sport and recreational ways," and that "legitimate handgun owners would be adversely affected" by restrictive policies. (p. 154).
Many of the flaws discussed above can be excused because the book was written for the public rather than for scholars. Furthermore, the authors are not guilty of anything that the anti-control forces have not also perpetrated.
The overall tone of the book is only mildly polemical, and the authors do, at times, admit that insufficient information is available about certain topics to make intelligent policy decisions. They leave little doubt, however, that they strongly favor policies, which would limit access to handguns.
The chapters on ideology, victimless crime and the future of [Page 543] gun control are insightful, interesting and fairly evenhanded. These chapters alone justify the cost of the book. Finally, the authors must be commended for attempting to write for the public, a task that many highly qualified scholars rarely undertake.
RAYMOND G. KESSLER
DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINALJUSTICE
SUL ROSS STATE UNIVERSITY
1. G. NEWTON AND F. ZIMRING, FIREARMS AND VIOLENCE IN AMERICAN LIFE (1969).
2. S. HALBROOK, THAT EVERY MAN BE ARMED (1984), E. KRUSCHKE, THE RIGHT TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS (1985).
3. J. WRIGHT AND P. ROSSI, ARMED AND CONSIDERED DANGEROUS (1986).
4. ACTS OF 1973, Ch. 399, § 3a, 1973 TEX. GEN. LAWS 992.
5. TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 46.02 (Vernon 1974).