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FSU research cited in landmark Supreme Court decision on gun control

Gary Kleck

Research by Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Kleck's research is cited multiple times and extensively discussed in Justice Stephen G. Breyer's dissent in the 5-4 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling, which overturned a Washington, D.C., handgun ban. FSU Criminology Professor Marc Gertz is also cited. While academic research is frequently cited in Supreme Court briefs, it is highly unusual for justices' opinions to include discussions of empirical studies.

With Kleck's research so prominently featured in one of the Supreme Court's defining decisions, hundreds of media outlets around the world mentioned the FSU faculty member, who also holds a courtesy appointment in the College of Law.

Probably the most prominent mention was a Page One article in the New York Times (June 28, 2008): "Justice Stephen G. Breyer, one of the dissenters in the 5-to-4 decision, surveyed a quite substantial body of empirical research [including Kleck's] on whether gun control laws do any good. Then he wrote: 'The upshot is a set of studies and counterstudies that, at most, could leave a judge uncertain about the proper policy conclusion.'

"At the crudest level, as Justice Breyer wrote, violent crime in Washington has increased since the ban took effect in 1976. Those statistics by themselves prove nothing, of course. Factors aside from the gun ban, like demographics, economics and the drug trade, were almost certainly in play.

"But Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, whose work Justice Breyer cited, said there were good reasons for making a definitive judgment.

"'We know the D.C. handgun ban didn't reduce homicide,' he said in an interview."

As the discussion of gun control has continued in the wake of Heller, Kleck has also received extensive media mention for his conclusions that handguns do not increase suicide.

According to a July 13 article in the Chicago Tribune, "Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck says there are at least 13 published studies finding no meaningful connection between the rate of firearms ownership and the rate of suicides. The consensus of experts, he says, is that an increase in gun ownership doesn't raise the number of people who kill themselves--only the number who do it with a gun."

Kleck has been teaching at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice since 1978. A national authority on violence and gun control laws, Kleck is a prolific scholar, having published numerous books and articles in leading refereed journals.

He is the winner of the 1993 Michael J. Hindelang Award, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology, for his book making "the most outstanding contribution to criminology" (Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (Aldine de Gruyter, 1991). Kleck's subsequent work (with Don Kates) Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control (Prometheus, 2001) was recognized by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Librarians' 39th Annual "Outstanding Academic Title List" for the authors' "excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to their field, and their value as an important treatment of their topic." Kleck is a member of the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

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