By 1990 there were approximately 200 million guns in private hands in the United States, and around half of American households contained a gun. Over 30,000 people a year are killed with guns in suicides, homicides, and acci-dents, and Americans use guns for defensive purposes over a million times a year. There is little doubt that gun violence and control are issues of vital importance, and they continue to inspire national debate. It is doubtful, however, whether most gun debates are worth listening to. Not surprisingly, such debates generally leave their participants exactly where they began, with their biases intact, and onlookers perplexed.
Written deliberately to counter an atmosphere of hysteria and extremism. Point Blank, now in paperback, offers logi-cal argument supported by empirical information. It con-fronts fundamental questions head-on. On its initial publication in 1993, Point Blank won the Michael J. Hindelang Award of the American Society of Criminology for the book that "made the most outstanding contribution to criminology." Point Blank reports both original research and assesses existing evidence drawn from a wide variety of academic disciplines, including criminology, sociology, law, and medicine.
The intention of any review is to take stock of the available fund of knowledge in some topical area. Under the Gun is no different: our goal has been to glean from the volumes of previous studies those facts that, in our view, seem firmly and certainly established; those hypotheses that seem adequately supported by, or at least approximately consistent with, the best available research evidence; and those areas or topics about which, it seems, we need to know a lot more than we do. One of our major conclusions can be stated in advance: despite the large number of studies that have been done, many critically important questions have not been adequately researched, and some of them have not been examined at all.
Much of the available research in the area of weapons and crime has been done by advocates for one or another policy position. As a consequence, the manifest intent of many "studies" is to persuade rather than to inform. We have tried to approach the topic from a purely agnostic point of view, treating as an open question what policies should be enacted with regard to gun, or crime, control. Thus, we have tried to judge each study on its own merits, on the basis of the routine standards normally applied to social-scientific research, and not on the basis of how effectively it argues for a particular policy direction. It would, of course, be presumptuous to claim that we have set aside all our own biases in conducting this study. Whether or not our treatment is fair and objective is clearly something for the reader, and not us, to decide.
Paying the Tab, the first comprehensive analysis of this complex policy issue, calls for broadening our approach to curbing destructive drinking. Over the last few decades, efforts to reduce the societal costs--curbing youth drinking and cracking down on drunk driving--have been somewhat effective, but woefully incomplete. In fact, American policymakers have ignored the influence of the supply side of the equation. Beer and liquor are far cheaper and more readily available today than in the 1950s and 1960s.
Philip Cook's well-researched and engaging account chronicles the history of our attempts to "legislate morality," the overlooked lessons from Prohibition, and the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous. He provides a thorough account of the scientific evidence that has accumulated over the last twenty-five years of economic and public-health research, which demonstrates that higher alcohol excise taxes and other supply restrictions are effective and underutilized policy tools that can cut abuse while preserving the pleasures of moderate consumption. Paying the Tab makes a powerful case for a policy course correction. Alcohol is too cheap, and it's costing all of us.