Bad Guys Inhabit Violent World

From the March 31, 1995, statement of Tulane University criminologist James Wright before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary:

My sixth observation is that the bad guys inhabit a violent world. As such, a gun often spells a life or death difference to them. If you ask felons, whether adult or juvenile, why they own guns, why they carry guns, themes of self protection, self- defense, survival, and so on, dominate their responses. Very few of the bad guys say they acquire or carry guns specifically for offensive or crime-committing purposes, although that is obviously how many of them get used. These men live in an extraordinarily hostile environment. Many of them come to believe, no doubt correctly, that their ability to survive in that environment depends critically on being adequately armed. "Adequately armed," in this case, means being better armed than your most likely adversary, namely the police. If sheer survival is indeed the issue, then a gun is a bargain at practically any price.

As James Q. Wilson has recently argued, the largest share of the gun violence problem results from the wrong people carrying guns at the wrong time and place. The survival motive among the bad guys means exactly that the wrong kinds of people will be carrying guns pretty much all the time. The evident implication is that the bad guys have to be disarmed on the streets if rates of gun violence are to decline, and that, I think, implies a range of interventions far removed from what gun control advocates have recently urged on the American population.