"Maybe it's the moon."--Los Angeles police chief Ed Davis, when asked why his officers shoot so many suspects.

     Libertarians view government policy as a major contributor to crime, the level of which has risen a full third since 1970. Government has discouraged personal defense, upset community stability, and failed to provide a police and criminal justice system which effectively deters criminal activity.  Victimless crime laws have stimulated crime.
     Libertarians will stop subsidizing crime, by repealing victimless crime statutes.  They will restore the natural right of personal defense., and allow neighborhoods to develop in a stable fashion.  Libertarians emphasize that justice is a matter between the criminal and victim--that the convicted criminal owes restitution to the victim, not to society or State.  Thus Libertarians urge local police and courts to focus upon restitution as a sentencing measure, increasing the deterrence and humaneness of criminal justice.  Libertarians will halt punitive regulation of private security protection, and give greater recognition for the use of private arbitration.
     Those who initiate force and fraud against fellow human beings have always been with us, and probably always will be.  What makes a society civilized, though, is the determination to reduce such vicious acts to a minimum.  Three kinds of deterrents have proved effective: personal self-defense, community mechanisms for discouraging criminal behavior, and professional protection and justice systems.

Past Crime Policy

     What has government policy accomplished?

     * Government has discouraged personal defense.  Over twenty thousand laws controlling gun ownership and unceasing propaganda have discouraged potential crime victims from taking personal measures to cope with the reality that police can react to, but rarely thwart criminal acts.  Government counsels us that personal defense is ineffective and leads to greater danger than being without a weapon. The facts are otherwise.
     Government statistics focusing solely upon the number of criminals killed by handguns systematically downplay the usefulness of self-defense weaponry.  A 1976 survey of 2,500,000 California handgun owners reported that 58 per cent had used a handgun in personal defense--but that in 99 per cent of these incidents the attacker was not killed.1  Focusing on the killings alone surely ignores the true picture.  An independent national study by St. Louis University law professor Don B. Kates, Jr. confirmed that personal weapons are more commonly used for non-lethal than lethal self-defense.2
     The importance of self-defense as a crime deterrent is illustrated by the success of civilian firearms training courses.  In 1968, Orlando, Florida became the only U.S. city of over 100,000 people to experience a decrease in crime (rape: down 90%; aggravated assault: down 25%; burglary: down 24%) after 6,000 women took a widely-publicized shooting course.  Such a course for merchants in Highland Park, Michigan reduced armed robberies from eighty in one four-month period to zero in the next 4 months.  Following firearms training for Detroit grocers, the number of armed robberies plummeted nearly 90 per cent.3
     The oft-cited claim that the gun is rarely an effective means of self-defense traces back to the Eisenhower Commission Report, which relied upon statistics of criminals killed, surveyed crimes in just two cities over a short timespan, and restricted its conclusion's application to unexpected attacks upon householders.  The report itself alluded to the fact that privately owned weapons do produce substantial success in warding off attacks against storekeepers and individuals on the street.4  A study prepared for the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library further concluded: "Statistically significant findings lend strength to the argument that widespread ownership of firearms may actually lessen crime."5
     It is a specious and hypocritical claim that individuals should not arm themselves for fear that they will be disarmed and the gun turned against them.  Police training, quite to the contrary, emphasizes that attempting to disarm even an untrained individual is an unlikely maneuver, to be avoided unless facing certain death.  A recent national study of resistance by armed women against attackers found not one case in which an armed woman lost her gun to an attacker.  Instead, the criminal was wounded or killed in forty-three per cent of the cases, captured or driven off without firing in another 50%, and escaped in the remaining 7% of the incidents.6
     Has the restriction of personal defense reduced crime? After years of debate, five separate studies7 empirically testing all the pro-gun control contentions say: "No."  "The conclusion is, inevitably, that gun control laws have no individual or collective effect in reducing rates of violent crime."8
     This conclusion seems to apply whether the gun regulation is a direct regulation of gun ownership, or a change in court procedure to provide, for example, mandatory sentences for unlicensed gun possession.  In its first year of operation, a Massachusetts statute mandating an automatic one year in prison for carrying a gun without a license produced minimal positive results.  Crime statistics for the Boston area revealed that the use of guns in robberies rose slightly, while the percentage of murders involving guns remained constant. Overall declines were registered in both categories of crime, but researchers at the Harvard Law School Center for Criminal Justice attributed the drop to changed economic conditions more than anything else.  Assaults during the period increased, and while the percentage of assaults with guns decreased from 23% to 17%, the use of other weapons increased proportionately.  (In the ensuing years, homicide and armed robbery have declined in Massachusetts; but they also declined in Rhode Island and other neighboring states which do not have Massachusetts' mandatory sentencing law.)  In the first six months of the law's operation, 40 out of 110 people found guilty under the statute had no record of prior offenses.  One individual was convicted for carrying--after his license had expired--a gun to a pawnshop so he could buy his high school graduation ring.  Said James Beha, director of the Harvard research team, "There is rarely if ever justification for mandatory sentences."9
     The intense regulation of self-defense has chilled the incentives of manufacturers to develop new, non-lethal weapons for personal use.  It has created a boondoggle where often only the rich or politically influential can obtain personal gun permits, and where private security firms find themselves being driven out of business by gun control "freezes" on licensing of private handguns.10  It has given criminals license to feed off a disarmed and virtually helpless citizenry.
     * Government has shattered the natural bonds of community self- protection.  Normally, we expect the evolution of neighborhoods to occur as a gradual and relatively orderly process. Whether an area is "declining" or "developing," the social bonds which constitute a community's natural protection against delinquency and violence--the local stores with their familiar daily clientele, the neighborhood association, the "gossip network"--all these are allowed time to adapt to change.  Not so under government policy! Rent controls, urban renewal, subsidized availability of water and sewer systems for suburban developments, and high taxes all incite the "flight to the suburbs."  "Renewal" programs displace established businessmen and homeowners, dumping the survivors into unfamiliar, monolithic housing projects where little sense of community exists.  Highway construction draws a line through traditional urban communities, disrupting old associations during long years of construction and often providing few means by which old neighborhood ties can be rejoined once the traffic starts flowing.  All-too often, blood is let when government slashes the mark of its violent example across the face of a community.  Warns Martin Anderson about the use of government's "eminent domain" land-confiscation powers:

What happens to a businessman's sense of justice when he is told that his business is to be destroyed to make way for someone else's business? What happens to the Negro's sense of justice when he discovers that two-thirds of those displaced are Negroes? What happens to the slum-dweller's sense of justice when he is forced out of the home he does have and then is told that he must uphold the laws and not riot?11
     Small wonder, then, that, as Time recently depicted it, out of our torn cities a "new remorseless, mutant juvenile seems to have been born, and there is no more terrifying figure in America today...Mugging is 'like playing a game,' says a youth who attends a school for problem kids in Manhattan. 'Kids do it for the fun of it.'"12
     Communities, if left in peace, can still do a great deal to guard against and reduce crime.  Says Philadelphia assistant district attorney Lewis Miltrano, "The black community is increasingly supporting the efforts of police because it's the black community that suffers most from youth crime and violence.  This attitude has done more to combat crime than all the federal funds that have gone into social projects."13
     * Government has withdrawn protection and justice.  The hard fact about crime is that when personal and community deterrents have failed, there is little that police and courts can directly do to either stop particular attacks or contain the overall crime trend.  Police and courts work best when the more personal and informal "systems" function at their utmost.  Simply beefing up police patrols rarely produces more than a negligible effect upon crime rates.14  It is apprehension and conviction which are the specialties of police and courts, and these add up to an indirect, though still very important, deterrent and protection against crime.
     In subtle ways, government has increasingly defaulted upon its claim to provide protection.  In urban areas, where the need is most urgent, police have been moved off the beat and into patrol cars, despite the fact that this move impairs the vital street link between



Sources:  Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States, 1975, p. 37, p. 174; and Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Criminal Victimization in the United States, p. 32.  The estimate of unreported crimes is LEAA's, and is an average of all "crimes of violence" excluding murder.  "Crimes of violence" may not represent the same analysis group as the FBI's seven index crimes, and the comparison between unreported and reported crimes is therefore less well documented than the remainder of this figure. 1975 statistics.



Crime Index Offenses
Estimated crime 1975
Percent change
over 1974
Percent change
over 1970
Percent change
over 1960
Rate per 100,000 inhabitants


















Murder................... Forcible rape............ Robbery.................. Aggravated assault....... Burglary................. Larceny-theft............ Motor vehicle theft......
56,090 464,970 484,710 3,252,100 5,977,700 1,000,500
1,525.9 2,804.8

Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, 1975, p. 11



(2,925 cities; 1975 population 39,020,000)

Percent of Charged
Number of 
(held for
 Criminal homicide:
(a)Murder, nonnegligent manslaughter.. (b)Manslaughter by negligence.........
Forcible rape................................. Robbery....................................... Aggravated assault............................
Burglary-breaking or entering.................
Motor vehicle theft...........................
Violent crime........................
Property crime.......................
Total for above offenses.............

Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, 1975, p. 174

policemen and community information sources.  Police in patrol cars have been doubled up, though documented evidence shows that the single policeman on patrol is no more endangered and somewhat less prone to use hasty force than teams of colleagues.15  With the 1975,crime rate up a third over 1970 (and 179.9% over 1960), and with an average of only twenty-one crimes out of 100 being cleared by arrest, the citizen rightly feels less safe than before.16
     Moreover, government has shrunk from the task of enforcing justice.  The chance that reported serious crimes will result in arrest and conviction on the original charge hovers around eight in one hundred, and for some crimes like auto theft (with a high percentage of juvenile cases) it is as low as 3%.17  The likelihood of a juvenile criminal's being held responsible is, on the whole, considerably smaller than the same likelihood for adults; consequently, juvenile crimes have since 1960 risen twice as fast as the adult rate and now comprise half the serious crimes committed in this country.18  In court, cynical offenders laugh and sneer at the sieve-like "justice" which often returns them to the streets in a few short hours.  Witnesses refuse to appear for fear of reprisals.  And so a vicious circle tightens a noose around the life of the community. 
     "Revolving-door justice" with its crowded courts, pragmatic plea bargaining, probation, and defunct rehabilitation efforts is the product of an inherently political overemphasis upon rehabilitation and correction of offenders.  Criminals, in the context of this philosophy, do not deal with their victims, but with judges vacillating between conflicting political pressures and ideologies. This results in






* Regulation of gambling

* Regulation of narcotics

* Prohibition of prostitution

* Regulation of pornography

* Regulation of sexual conduct carried on by consenting adults

* Cigarette, liquor, and coffee taxes

* Regulation of interest charges

* Licensing and regulation of insurance, law
  practice, medical practice, and pharmaceuticals 

* Regulation of private security and firearms

* Licensing and regulation of garbage collection,
  construction, land use, and for-hire transportation

a loss of deterrence.  As major criminological studies of the past twenty years show, we have fostered a class of repeat offenders who account for the majority of arrests and who routinely, skillfully manipulate indeterminate government "justice" to the point where the connection between crime and punishment resembles nothing more than a roll of the dice.19  The root of the problem is the inherently political nature of government courts, which must respond to the whole gamut of political sentiment, from pacifism to neo-fascism, "balancing" contradictory demands for punishment, rehabilitation, "social justice," mercy, and budgetary economy.  Government courts, which draw their allotment of taxes regardless of their performance, perceive little consumer demand for simple justice; and that is the criminal's opening.
     * Government has stimulated and created crimeVictimless crime laws--restrictions placed upon exchanges which consenting adults desire to make--create victims where none existed before.  Not the least of these is the naive bystander who supposes that victimless crime laws eliminate disapproved behavior, when in fact they merely deliver the enormous profits from prohibited transactions into the hands of professional criminals.
     The prosperous racketeer scurrying to unload the illegal millions in small bills which stuff his pockets is a direct beneficiary of government subsidy.  His competition has been stilled; prohibitions against victimless transactions reserve the market for such transactions to those who operate outside the law.  Organized crime netted at least $25 billion profit on $48 billion revenues in 1976; by comparison, Exxon, the largest U.S. industrial concern, made $2.6 billion on $51.6 billion sales. Chicago officials estimate that the average personís cost of living is boosted two per cent to cover the burdens of additional theft insurance, heavier security, and extortion in the economy.20
     Such enormous opportunity in crime contributes to the deterioration of the public safety.  Consider the example of prohibitions against use and exchange of heroin.  The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has estimated that about one-fifth of the property crimes committed in the United States are related to heroin.21  The President's Council on Drug Abuse reported that in 1975 $6.3 billion of property damage and $630 million in court costs owed to addicts' stealing to pay the artificially high price of heroin.22  Little of addicts' money actually pays for narcotics; the raw materials cost of five dollars' worth of heroin is roughly a quarter of a cent.23  The money does flow to fences who buy stolen loot at a steep discount of its normal value, to networks of importers and distributors whose main "business skill" consists of slip- ping through government-erected barriers, to gunmen, to enforcers, and to the crime overlords who scramble for the privilege to sit atop the heap. The pure profit potential created by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 and the hundreds of state and local prohibitions it has sired has led the mob to "hard sell" hard drugs, so that the 2,000 addicts existing in 1914 have multiplied to more than 400,000 today!24  It has simultaneously led organized crime to invade politics; mob expert Ralph Salerno contends that organized crime rewards politicians for keeping private urban lotteries illegal because the mob needs the cash "floated" in its own numbers racket to finance huge drug imports.25
    Organized crime's force has no function, and narcotics lose their artificial attractions, in a society which has repealed prohibition of drug exchanges.  In England, where doctors dispense narcotics by prescription, a typical daily dose costs fifty cents and the official count of British addicts is about 300.  Free to be left alone, narcotics users do not walk the streets in crazed abandon. Nor did they haunt the American social scene until the first drug laws declared them a "problem"--then fulfilled the prophecy.26

Libertarian Proposals
     What will Libertarians do about crime?
     * Libertarians will stop subsidizing it, by repealing prohibitions against peaceful, voluntary transactions.  This will lead to a major reduction of violent and "white-collar" crime.
     * Libertarians will restore the right of personal defense.  When violence does occur, there is no more effective means of combatting it than a prepared citizenry.  Libertarians urge repeal of gun control laws and restrictions upon the production and ownership of non-lethal weapons.
     * Libertarians will let communities reassert their natural defenses.  An end to the destruction and displacement of communities through high taxes, development subsidies, and government "community development" or urban "renewal" will allow the natural social bonds in communities to heal, and to play their useful role in the guidance of growing children and in fending off violence.  We must start allowing youngsters to grow up free of the tragic wounds which shattered communities inflict upon them today.
     * Libertarians will unshackle private police protection.  The developers of supplemental and better methods for dealing with crime have languished by being forced to simultaneously support and compete with a government police monopoly.  Sadly, because police benefit from this monopoly, many police officials have abandoned their objectivity
and adopted the position that only they can combat crime.
     Yet many individuals and institutions appear ready to provide
better defense of their rights.  Private residential subdivisions, neighborhood associations, mobile home and resort communities, hotel and apartment complexes, shopping malls, industrial parks, farmers and ranchers--all have shown themselves capable of improving the security of their property and, consequently, of those around them.27
     Even under the burden of taxes, consumers in many communities purchase more of private security companies' services than is laid out "on their behalf" by local government police departments.  A recent Law Enforcement Assistance Administration study of two cities found that private-sector security expenditures exceeded public-sector outlays by roughly twelve per cent.28  In California, private guards outnumber police officers 50,000 to 45,000.  New York, with its heavy traffic in financial paper, has 25,000 officers and upwards of 75,000 private security guards.  With the private security business growing by about eleven per cent annually, the International Association of Police Chiefs figures that private security will employ 1,431,000 persons by 1990.29
     Rollbacks of tax-funded police activity are not likely to be one  of Libertarians' initial political successes.  Yet unique opportunities may present themselves during course of a Libertarians's tenure in local office.  If a new residential subdivision or industrial park is proposed for the community, the Libertarian can propose an alternative to the old standby of additions to the police force and more taxes.  Perhaps it will be the case that the new industry or development can be attracted only when the local government frees it from the tax burden of supporting municipal police on top of its own private security.
     * Libertarians will permit arbitration alternatives to develop. A final plank concerns citizen access to legal relief.  Libertarians will improve access by offering tax credits and greater legal recognition for the use of arbitration.
     If restitution leads to greater participation in the criminal justice system by insurers, this development alone would seem to contribute a well-deserved push to court recognition of private arbitration settlements.  But insurance companies are not the only ones who can use arbitrators for improved access to justice; so can the average citizen.  He will expand private arbitrators' already important role in legal disputes when government justice proves unattainable--as it often does, especially for minor crimes.  Thus it is only fair to free the public from the burden of supporting courts which refused to serve their needs for justice.
     An arbitration mechanism designed to handle a wide variety of minor criminal matters, commercial suits, and prison disputes currently is operated by the Community Dispute Service of the American Arbitration Association.  CDS has since 1968 provided dispute resolution services at low cost to individuals who often could not obtain relief through the courts.  Full- and part-time services are available at all regional offices of the AAA, and the Association can supply lists Of some 40,000 men and women arbitrators selected for their expertise and impartiality.30
     Noting the success of arbitration experiments in Tucson, Arizona
and Columbus, Ohio, John M. Greacen of the National Institute for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice points out these advantages of direct arbitration:
... development of more creative dispositions for most criminal cases; for criminal victims, the increased use of restitution and the knowledge that their interests were considered in the political process; an increased satisfaction with the outcome; increased awareness on the part of the offender that his crime was committed against another human being, and not against society in general; and increased possibility that the criminal process will cause the offender to acknowledge responsibility for his acts.31




1. Don B. Kates, Jr., "On Reducing Violence and Liberty: A Reply to Rep. Drinan," Civil Liberties Review (August-September 1976), p.58.
2. Kates, "Why a Civil Libertarian Opposes Gun Control," Civil Liberties Review (June-July 1976), P. 28.
3. Ibid., P. 28.
4. Ibid., p. 27. 
5. Alan S. Krug, "The Relationship Between Firearms Licensing Laws and Crime Rates," Congressional Record 113 (1967):20060.
6. Kates, "Rape: Is Armed Self-defense the Answer?" St. Louisan Literary Supplement, February 1977, p. 9.
7. The studies are: "The Regulation of Firearms by the States, "Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library Report, Research Bulletin No. 130 (1960); Krug, "The Relationship Between Firearms Licensing Laws and Crime Rates," Congressional Record 113 (1967): 20060; Snyder, "Crime Rises Under Rigid Gun Control," American Rifleman, 1969; Dyer, "Guns, Crime, and the Law," (unpublished manuscript, 1975); and Snyder, "Statistical Analyses Show Handgun Control Laws Don't Stop Homicide," Point Blank, July 1975. For a concise summary, see Kates, "Gun Control Doesn't Work," Reason (May 1977), p. 22 (rpt. from Law and Liberty, Summer 1976).
8. Murray, "Handguns, Gun Control, and Firearm Violence," Social Problems (October 1975).
9. "A Tough Gun Law in Mass. Has Mixed Results in Year," The Washington Post, July 15, 1976.
10. In New York, a city of eight million, there were in 1971 24,354 pistol licenses in force, of which only 564 were issued to those not needing them as a condition of employment.  (National Shooting Sports Foundation, "Gun Registration: Costly Experiment or Crime Cure?" pamphlet, p.5) It is in Washington, DC where a strict gun-registration law forced over fifty private security firms to resort to illegal handguns in order to fulfill contract commitments.  Small and minority-owned firms were hardest hit, but one firm experiencing no trouble was the private security agency headed by former District of Columbia police chief Jerry Wilson. See "Gun Control Law Hurts City Guards," The Washington Post, July 22, 1977, p. Cl.
11. Martin Anderson, The Federal Bulldozer (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. xi.
12. "The Youth Crime Plague," Time, July 11, 1977, p. 18, p. 25.
13. Time, July 11, 1977, p. 28.
14. See James Q. Wilson, Thinking About Crime (New York: Basic Books, 1975), chapter five.
15. See John E. Boydston, et. al., Patrol Staffing in San Diego: One or Two Officer Units (Washington, D.C. Police Foundation, 1977).
16. Uniform Annual Crime Reports: Crime in the United States 1975 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Investigation . 1976), p. 11, p. 37.
17. Ibid., p. 37, p. 174.
18. Time, July 11, 1977, p. 37. "Serious crimes" include murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
19. Robert W. Poole, Jr., review of Thinking About Crime in Reason (November 1976), p. 55. The studies mentioned include a tracking of 10,000 Philadelphia youngsters by Martin Wolfgang, an analysis of 231 correctional treatment experiments by Robert Martinson, and more recent studies by the Rand Institute, the Police Foundation, and others.
20. "The Mafia: Big, Bad, and Booming," Time, May 16, 1977, p. 33.
21. Heroin Related Crime (Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration, February 1977). "Property crimes" take in burglary, larceny, auto theft, bad checks, and credit card fraud.  Based on 1974 figures.
22. Roger L. MacBride, A New Dawn for America (Ottawa, IL: Green Hill Publishers, 1976), p. 85.  Partial decriminalization of marijuana use in California resulted in a drop of law enforcement costs from $7.6 million to $2.3 million, and an eighty per cent drop in court costs, reflecting the fact that for the small amounts of the fines most arrested preferred to pay rather than litigate.  See "Trends," Reason (May 1977), p. 14.
23. R.A. Childs, Jr., "Liberty and the Drug Problem," unpublished ms., p. 14.
24. Domestic Council Drug Abuse Task Force, White Paper on Drug Abuse (Washington, D.C.: Domestic Council, 1975). A somewhat higher estimate of 450,000 is provided by Childs, op. cit.
25. Craig S. Karpel, "There Are 8,000,000 Stories in the Naked City, and This Is the Last One," Playboy (November 1976) p. 195. For a fuller discussion of Salerno's views, see Salerno, The Crime Confederation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969).
26. MacBride, op. cit., pp. 86-87.
27. For a discussion of such "proprietary communities," see Spencer H. MacCallum, The Art of Community (Institute for Humane Studies, 1970).
28. Robert W. Poole, Jr., Cut Local Taxes (Santa Barbara, CA: Reason Press, 1976), p. 11.
29. George O'Toole, "This Gun for Hire," Penthouse (April 1977), p. 75. 
30. The Center is located at 140 West 51st St., New York, NY 10020.
31.  John M. Greacen, "Arbitration: A Tool for Criminal Cases?" Barrister (Winter 1975), p. 53. Cited in Barnett, Ethics, p. 290.


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