The Truth About Guns
by Ari Armstrong, May 1999
This article has been abbreviated. The full text is available. Rights reserved. This article may be duplicated, but only in its entirety.
Most people who push for more gun controls honestly believe such controls will reduce violence in society. Few who support gun control conduct much research or understand the first thing about guns.
Most anti-gunners thrive on emotional appeals and scare-tactics. Damn the research, damn any evidence that reveals anything good about gun ownership. Statistics, when cited, are given out of context and without available conflicting data. Misrepresentation of even the most rudimentary gun issues runs rampant in anti-gun crowds.
Politicizing a Tragedy
It was inevitable, if unfortunate, that the tragedy at Columbine High School would lead to political posturing. Almost immediately after the shooting, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who had been fighting the State Legislature over a gun bill, organized speakers to demonize the National Rifle Association and pro-gun Colorado legislators. But some gun supporters also pushed their political agenda.
Ted Pascoe, executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence, took advantage of the tragedy to trounce the N.R.A. Pascoe reportedly said, "We'd like the N.R.A.... to change its mission. We think a mission that perpetuates the proliferation of firearms is irresponsible.... People are outraged that the N.R.A. would come to town at a time like this" (Rocky Mountain News, April 29, 1999, story by Steve Caulk).
Why is it OK for Pascoe to publicly push his own political agenda, but it's not OK for the N.R.A. to hold a private meeting which has been planned for months? It's one thing to criticize the N.R.A.'s timing. It's quite another to criticize the N.R.A.'s timing while at the same time promoting one's own political agenda. What flagrant hypocrisy!
A debate on gun rights is appropriate following the tragedy, as are debates about various other cultural issues. It would have been better if everyone would have waited for a few weeks until the grief had begun to subside. But that didn't happen. So at this point the best we can do is to curb the hysterical political frenzy and try to begin a well-reasoned, civil discussion.
What is the N.R.A.?
The N.R.A. exists primarily to promote firearm safety. N.R.A. instructors across the nation train gun owners how to handle their weapons safely and effectively. To claim, as does Ted Pascoe, that the N.R.A.'s "mission" is to "perpetuate the proliferation of firearms" is either to profess one's ignorance or to willfully slur the organization.
Some who know nothing about the N.R.A. have decided the group would make a fine scape-goat. But haven't we had enough scape-goating in this town?
The Purpose of Owning Guns
Gun rights have little to do with hunting and everything to do with self-defense. Guns are immediately valuable as a way to prevent crime. A widely armed population deters crime without even firing the weapons. Criminals think twice about entering a house in which the residents may be armed.
Guns deter criminals. That's why states with concealed carry laws show decreased levels of crime. That's why the Colorado legislature should pass a concealed carry law next year, even though this year's bill was pulled from consideration.
Gun control measures such as those recently offered by Bill Clinton would do little to disarm criminals but would hinder lawful citizens' ability to thwart crime.
The Phenomenon of Schoolyard Shootings
Why is it that, within the last few years, children have been turning guns and other weapons against their peers at schools?
More to the point, why has this violence arisen in recent years, when gun control laws have been more stringent than in the past?
To blame America's cultural decline on guns, especially when guns are now more regulated than ever, is ridiculous. Equally absurd is the suggestion that regulating guns even more will somehow reverse the cultural trends.
The International Critique of Guns
"...we need strong, sane gun laws," writes Michael D. Nelson in the April 22 Rocky Mountain News. "Australia had one mass murder and immediately saw their Parliament pass one of the best gun-control laws in the world." And a year after that law was passed, homicides in Australia were up 3.2%, assaults were up 8.6%, and armed robberies were up 44%. Yes, armed robberies! Maybe there's something to that cliché, "If guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns."
In the same issue of the News, Holger Jensen related a statistic cited by the London Telegraph: "In 1996 handguns were used to murder 30 people in Britain, 106 in Canada, 211 in Germany, and 9,390 in America."
The mere fact that these figures ignore population differences suggests they are intended primarily as propaganda. However, it remains the case that, per capita, the crime rate with guns is higher in the U.S. than it is in some other countries. But the general crime rate in the U.S. is lower than it is in some countries, and higher than in others, which suggests that gun crime is merely a symptom of a broader cultural problem.
David Kopel of the Independence Institute points out that the statistics from the Telegraph fail to distinguish between gun violence and other types of violence. If criminals use fewer guns, do they use more knives? Kopel continues: There is not a country in the world--including Canada, Germany, or Britain--where murder has declined after the enactment of repressive gun laws. If America is really serious about reducing murder and saving innocent lives, then America should start allowing victims to protect themselves. Concealed handgun permit laws have been proven to reduce homicide by 8% to 10% in the five years following their enactment.
The Effectiveness of Guns in Self-Defense
Some opponents of gun rights cite the infrequency with which guns are used in the home to stop crime. Granted, better firearms instruction, such as the N.R.A. provides, would lead to more effective use of guns. However, even without being fired guns have a significant deterrent effect on crime. If a criminal has only a slight risk of getting shot, he or she will be less likely to commit the crime in the first place. That's the main reason why states with concealed weapons laws show a decrease in crime. The truth of the matter is that those of us who arm ourselves make gun control advocates more safe by scaring away the criminals.
The evidence supporting gun rights is compelling. Would-be gun controllers ought to weigh this evidence carefully before knee-jerking their way into bad laws and a less safe society.