Reply to Anonymous
by Ari Armstrong, September 19, 2000
I got an anonymous letter, a tirade against gun ownership, postmarked September 7 from Denver zip code 80266. I here reproduce the entire letter in block quotes, along with my commentary. It's instructive to look at the many flaws in the letter, and it offers an insight into the thinking of civil arms opponents.
Try as I might, I just can't see it. I go over and over the pro-gun arguments, and they all come up empty or deeply flawed.
However, as will soon become apparent, our anonymous author has not gone "over and over" arguments favoring gun ownership; indeed, she has not even considered them once. (The author later reveals her gender.)
Take, for example, the claim that we need to protect ourselves from bad guys. Does owning a gun really make us safer?
Yes. Unequivocally. Gun owners frequently stop crimes, and gun ownership deters many criminals from even attempting crimes. If our anonymous author had indeed gone "over and over" the scholarship of Gary Kleck, John Lott, David Kopel, and others (or even looked at it once), she would have known that.
Well, when you consider the fact that America has by far the highest gun death rate in the civilized world, one of the highest violent crime rates, and the highest prison population except for Russia, it is impossible to conclude that gun ownership makes our society safer. In fact, easy access to guns is making America one of the most dangerous countries to live in.
This anonymous section contains so many errors it's difficult to know where to begin. "Anonymous" ignores countries like Russia and Brazil, which have draconian gun restriction laws and incredibly high violence rates. She ignores Britain, which suffers higher rates of robbery and assault than the United States and where "hot" burglaries (where residents are home) are on the upswing. She ignores Australia, where the 1996 gun ban led to a 73% increase in armed robbery over the next two years and dramatic increases in most other categories of violent crimes.
Of course, the category of "gun death rate" is misleading. If criminals don't kill people with guns, they often kill people with other weapons such as knives. Suicide victims are demonstrated to replace one method of suicide with another based on constraints.
The fact that America's prison population is high actually helps explain why we suffer violence. The prison population is high for one reason: drug prohibition, which clears the prisons of violent criminals to make room for non-violent drug offenders and which creates a violent black market in drugs. Just as violent crime sky-rocketed during alcohol prohibition, so violence is caused today by drug prohibition.
The other major source of crime in America is our racist past and the continued persecution of minorities through government regulatory and tax burdens. Drug prohibition only exacerbates the problems faced by minorities by creating a violent gang underclass. If we want to reduce violence in America, the solution is to end drug prohibition and repeal the laws which harm blacks and other minorities.
It should be obvious that cross-cultural crime comparisons are a poor basis for looking at the effects of gun ownership on crime. Deeper cultural differences impact crime rates. For instance, Japan suffers very little violent crime yet double the suicide rate of the U.S. The U.S. suffers relatively high rates of violence, yet this is obviously not the result of gun ownership, as 92% of violent crimes in the U.S. are committed without a gun.
Relative to the issue of gun ownership, the important point is not the U.S. crime rate compared with the crime rates of other countries. The important issue is whether gun restriction laws in the U.S. would make crime go up or down. As John Lott has shown in his exhaustive study, gun restriction laws make crime go up, and liberalized gun laws make crime go down. So, even though life in the U.S. is dangerous relative to some other countries, because of drug prohibition and gang activity, life is safer than it would be otherwise because of civil arms.
Then there is the argument that without the Second Amendment, our First Amendment rights would be in peril. Nonsense. Virtually every other industrialized democracy in the world practices strict gun control, and none of them have sacrificed their freedom of speech in the process. Japan, England, Germany, Australia, etc. all have the same freedom of speech, religion, right to assemble that we Americans have, and they haven't needed guns to enforce those rights. They also have the freedom of not burying dozens of citizens every day who have fallen victim to gun violence.
Of course, Australians and the British are suffering increases in violent crimes because criminals love to attack disarmed victims. It is simply false that these other countries have the same freedoms that Americans have. Germany has outlawed select group associations. Australia has censored the internet. I'm not knowledgeable of speech rights in Japan, but I do know police can search any person or home at any time without a warrant. That said, I agree that it's possible for First Amendment rights to stand (at least for a time) absent Second Amendment rights. (The fact that I have never actually made many of the arguments the anonymous writer discusses seems not to have deterred her from writing me about those issues.) If we're going to look at Japan, though, we might also look at other Asian nations, where the people are both disarmed and silenced. But anonymous ignores the many cases which contradict her simplistic vision of the world.
In examining the countries anonymous mentions, we might also note that Japan and Germany indeed buried a great many of their citizens earlier this century. Prior to the totalitarian regimes which controlled these nations, the people of both countries were disarmed and made subserviant to the state.
There are those who insist that the Second Amendment guarantees their right "to bear arms." That is true to a point. The men who wrote those words lived in a world where "arms" consisted mainly of muskets, dueling pistols and early rifles, each of which required a full minute or more to reload and all of which were used primarily to put food on the colonists' tables. These "arms" were essential to life on the frontier. No one today would starve if deprived of their semi-automatic.
The men who wrote the First Amendment lived in a world where "speech" consisted of quills and ink, cumbersome presses, and a postal system that could take weeks or even months. By the logic of anonymous, that means computers, the internet, radio, and television should not be protected under the First Amendment.
But anonymous seems to have missed the point of the Second Amendment. As she would know had she actually gone "over and over" the arguments of civil arms advocates, the Second Amendment "ain't about duck hunting," it's about defending against tyranny. Hence the bit about "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state." However, even absent the Second Amendment, no federal law pertaining to firearms is authorized by the Constitution, and every such law is expressly prohibited by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.
The fact that no one would starve if deprived of their semi-automatic is beside the point. Many additional persons would be victimized by criminals if deprived of their semi-automatics. After all, semi-automatic handguns are the most popular means of self-defense. For situations of looting, semi-automatic rifles often prove more useful for self-defense. For cases of defending against tyranny, semi-automatics are essential.
[It is also appropriate to remember that many of our Founding Fathers were slave-owners, and they did not provide Constitutional suffrage for women or blacks. They were human, not God, and the Constitution has had to be amended many times to correct situations that our evolving society has come to recognize as unjust.]
Anonymous seems to misunderstand the nature of Constitutional arguments. Libertarians don't argue that the Constitution creates rights; we argue that the U.S. Constitution happens to recognize certain natural rights which are justified independently of the Constitution. Granted, many of the Founders owned slaves and violated the rights of black people. However, that shortcoming does not imply their position on civil arms was in error.
Furthermore, we already infringe on the rights of private citizens to bear many kinds of "arms", including bazookas, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles, nuclear warheads, etc. These modern, sophisticated arms were beyond the wildest imaginings of our Founding Fathers, and it is our present-day society's burden to determine which weapons belong in the hands of our next-door neighbors and which do not. The Constitution says nothing about preventing convicted felons, or five-year-old children, or clinically insane people from "bearing arms", yet we as a society have decided that it is in the best interests of public safety to infringe on certain people's 2nd Amendment rights. The question is really one of weighing whether one set of "rights" infringe upon other, more fundamental rights such as life and liberty.
Thus anonymous sets up a typical straw-man argument. No civil arms advocate I know claims the right to bear arms includes nuclear warheads. There are two related points here. First, the Second Amendment applies to small arms. Second, any weapon which cannot be used discriminately automatically endangers innocent persons if used. True, this still leaves a certain amount of grey area, which I do not intend to explore here. The point is that, while surface-to-air missiles might be in the grey area, semi-automatic firearms are certainly small arms that every citizen has the right to bear.
The second part of the straw-man argument entails children and the clinically insane. Standard libertarian theory grants contract rights to mentally functional adults. It is no "infringement" of the right of an infant to limit the availability of arms, and the same goes for the insane.
Felons are a different story. Today in America, many felons are non-violent drug offenders. Certainly non-violent offenders should not be denied their rights to purchase a firearm. As for violent criminals, my view is that an extended probationary period following prison could rightly restrict firearms possession, though the law should allow for eventual rehabilitation of at least some such criminals. But again, a violent criminal has surrendered certain of his or her rights; those rights are not "infringed."
Anonymous manifests further confusion over rights in claiming different rights can "infringe" on each other. Life and liberty are indeed fundamental rights, the immediate correlary of which is the right of self-defense. Other rights, such as those of contract and property, also follow. No action is a "right" which violates the person or property of another. No group has the "right" to deny individuals the ability to defend themselves. Rights by there nature cannot conflict.
One of the most annoying claims made by gun fanatics is that, without an armed citizenry, the government will "take over." This concept is flawed on several counts. First of all, WE are the government. If we don't vote a dictator into office, and vote to elimiate the checks and balances our Constitution provides, the possibility of "government takeover" is probably no greater than the chances of an asteroid hitting the planet.
I would challenge our anonymous writer to find any citation by "gun fanatics" which justifies her characterizations. The claim is not that civil arms prevent government from taking over; instead, the claim is that an armed populace helps prevent government from becoming tyrannical. True, IF we never vote in a dictator, then full-blown tyranny is unlikely to develop. However, Germany indeed voted in a dictator earlier this century. Unfortunately, anonymous reifies "goverment" and assumes that a leader approved by the majority somehow represents every person in the region.
Additionally, as any one who has served in the armed forces knows, soldiers take an oath when they join the military. They solemnly pledge to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic." If the President of the United States issued an unlawful order to "take over" the military would have not only the right but the duty to disregard such an order.
While surely many persons in the military would behave as anonymous describes, certainly some will not. For instance, the military participated in the Waco conflagration and it participates in the unconstitutional war on drugs. The authors of the Constitution feared a standing army, which is why they empowered the militia.
It would also be prudent to remember that our government is strongly influenced by business interests, and any totalitarian political movement that threatened the sacred doctrine of "laissez-faire" would be unlikely to survive even an embryonic stage.
This assertion is silly. We haven't had anything resembling "laissez-faire" in this country for well over a century. Unforunately, the military-industrial complex --- or more broadly the state-industrial complex -- often displaces the legitimate market.
What makes me most angry is the insistence of pro-gunners that "law abiding" citizens mustn't be inconvenienced by things like waiting periods and background checks when they purchase guns. Excuse me, but wasn't that day trader from Atlanta a "law abiding citizen" till the day he shot nine people in a rage over his failing finances? Our own local villains Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were basically "law-abiding" till last April 20th. How many estranged husbands and boyfriends, angry drivers, unjustly fired employees, and rejected suitors are "law-abiding" till someone makes them really really angry and they pick up a (semi-automatic, easily-concealed, readily-available) gun?! How many suicides and accidental shootings occur among the "law abiding"? I'll bet at least half of all gun crimes are committed by regular old "law-abiding" citizens.
The idle speculations of Anonymous notwithstanding, nearly all murderers (including the Columbine killers) have engaged in previous criminal activity.
But for the small minority of cases which are the exception to the rule, the comments made by Anonymous are incoherent. After all, "law-abiding citizens" are not deterred by background checks.
John Lott has found that the national Brady background check system has resulted in a 3.6% increase in the rate of rape. Because of incomplete and inaccurate records, background checks routinely deny (yes) law abiding citizens their right to purchase a firearm for self-defense. This results in increased criminal victimization. (Again, Anonymous' comments prove that she is less than truthful about going "over and over" the arguments of civil rights advocates, as she isn't even aware of what those arguments are.)
Meanwhile, background checks and waiting periods do little if anything to stop criminals, who can resort to theft or the the black market to obtain guns or who can simply resort to other weapons like knives or bats.
Then there is the gun lobby's insistence that guns are no more dangerous than knives or fists, that it's the person behind the gun and not the gun itself that is the problem. Well then, ask yourself which weapon you would rather see in the hands of, say, the men who have just high-jacked the airplane you are on -- guns or knives? If an armed intruder breaks into your home, which weapon will more likely result in your survival, regardless of whether you have a pistol locked in your night stand drawer? If your three-year-old daughter sneaks out of your grasp and pulls out a pair of kitchen scissors, is she more or less likely to die than if she pulls out a loaded gun? The fact is, guns are in and of themselves more dangerous weapons than knives or clubs or fists. They can kill more people more quickly and with less possibility of defense on the part of the attacked. Most of us can fight back against a large variety of "weapons", but none of us can dodge or outrun bullets. People who deny the lethal superiority of guns ought to be prohibited (by reason of mental incompetence) from ever owning one.
And so Anonyous levels yet another attack on a straw-man. No member of the "gun lobby" has ever claimed that guns are not more effective weapons than, say, knives. That guns are more effective is precisely why we advocate their use for self-defense. Of course, we do argue that the "person behind the gun" determines whether the gun will be used for good or ill, but that's a separate issue.
Obviously, anyone who's attacked would rather the attacker be as ill-armed and weak as possible. This is not some kind of profound revelation here. The question is, will gun restriction laws keep guns out of the hands of criminals or law abiding citizens? Criminals tend not to follow the law -- that's why they're criminals. Restrictions on gun ownership serve to disarm the lawful and empower criminals. (For instance, the black market in guns is huge in England.) But Anonymous will not pull her head out of the sand long enough to realize her utopian policy proposals will have results opposite of those she intends.
As for the bit about the three-year-old, no responsible parent would ever let his or her child have access to firearm without appropriate supervision.
Concealed carry? Well, how about the scenario in which my high-school-teacher sister, who often has potentially violent students, packs a pistol while at school, and a mean kid comes in late, and refuses to show his office pass, and refuses to go get one, and then starts to reach under his coat, and fearing for her life she pulls her gun and shoots him, only to discover later that he was merely reacing for the requested pass -- this is the kind of school environment the NRA approves? The logical conclusion is that such mass-arming of citizens will result in more, not less violent deaths. (And to those who claim that cities with concealed-carry show a drop in gun crime, I say let's compare gun crime rates to cities where NO ONE carries!)
Many cities with liberal concealed carry laws indead have much lower crime rates than cities in which "no one carries." For instance, no one (except criminals) carries in Washington, D.C., the city with a fantastically high crime rate.
Anonymous pulls out unsubstantiated "logical conclusions" faster than flat-earthers. It's simply astounding that someone would attempt to make a claim about concealed carry laws who obviously has not read a single word ever written by (Yale scholar) John Lott. Lott demonstrated that concealed carry reduces crime, reduces "violent deaths," and leads to increased public safety.
Lott has also found that people as stupid as Anonymous claims her sister is don't carry concealed handguns. Instead, those who carry legally concealed handguns are responsible, skillful, and an asset to the safety of their communities. But what's science in the light of Anonymous' a priori speculations?
The bottom line is that uncontrolled, unrestricted access to guns is killing tens of thousands of men, women, and children every year, and injuring or crippling many thousands more.
False. Drug prohibition and gang warfare is killing many Americans, but fortunately civil arms keep the crime rates lower than they otherwise would be.
My children have a greater chance of dying from gunfire than from cancer.
Your children have a greater chance of drowning in a five gallon bucket or a swimming pool than of dying from gunfire. And if your children do not join violent gangs, they have very little chance of dying from gunfire (unless they visit Anonymous' sister, I suppose).
Yet despite the fact that the majority of Americans want to enact some reasonable gun control measures, our politicians turn a deaf ear to the will of the people.
Sorry, Anonymous, I don't think you've convinced anyone that your proposals are "reasonable." The only gun legislation proven to be reasonable is that which permits citizens to keep and bear arms.
As for the "will of the people," the majority of Germans once voted for Adolf Hitler, the majority of Americans once wanted slavery and segregation, and so on down the lines of history. Hysterical cries for more disarmament laws are no substitute for sound public policy.
It's interesting that the NRA, who by their own estimates claim 5,000,000 members or 2% of the population of this country, get to "work with legislators", basically dictating what kind of gun laws the NRA will allow to pass, while the vast majority of us are essentially ruled by this tiny, tyrannical minority.
Preach it, sister. The NRA has helped pass disarmament laws since 1934. The group helped write the Brady bill, responsible for a 3.6% increase in rape. The NRA is irresponsible and cowardly in its politics and often unwilling to fight for reasonable gun legislation which upholds the right of citizens to defend themselves with firearms.
As far as the "let's enforce the laws already on the books" sound bite is concerned, I do hope these same folks are willing to put their money where their mouths are. We will have to hire many more police officers, court clerks, lawyers, judges, not to mention allocating large sums of money for more prisons and guards in order to convict and imprison everyone who violates gun laws.
Unfortunately, the NRA is indeed helping to fund "Project Exile," the results of which will be to herd non-violent gun offenders into federal concentration camps.
And from what I observed during the gun bill proceedings in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on January 24, 2000, the laws "on the books", as well as new ones proposed, contain so many exceptions, exemptions and ambiguities as to be virtually unenforceable to begin with. It was a sad testimony to the truth of the claim that "gun control doesn't work". Not the way it's currently written! We should simplify and strengthen our laws so they have real "teeth" to begin with, and not allow the NRA to gut the legislation from the outset.
So Anonymous' claim is that the reason gun control must be expanded is that it doesn't work.
As far as I'm concerned, my fundamental rights are being violated by the gun fanatics.
Substitute for "gun fanatics" in the above sentence "Indians" or "Jews" and we begin to grasp the mindset of Anonymous. I have never harmed Anonyous, never will, and in fact would come to her aid in an emergency. There is no justification for her claiming non-violent persons have violated her rights.
Since Columbine, by kids' elementary school has been locked down like a prison, restricting their freedom of movement. All Americans now have to live in fear of being shot at, whether we're driving down the highway, sitting in school, working at the office, standing in line at the post office or kneeling in church. All just to appease the irrational, uncompromising portion of the population who believe, despite the reality, that guns are more sacred than life, liberty andthe pursuit of happiness. It's time for things to change.
I wholeheartedly agree with the last sentence. However, let's not be melodramatic: in fact homicide rates have been falling over the past few years, due in part to liberalized concealed carry laws. And please, Anonymous, don't blame those of us who refuse to submit our children to the indoctrination and psychological abuse of government schools for your own willingness to do so.
If we want a reason for the recent string of school shootings, one contributing factor is the 1995 "Gun Free School Zones Act," which of course worked just as Anonymous envisioned.
It's silly for Anonymous to suggest that guns are for anyone "more sacred than life." Of course, guns are an important tool for protecting life, and that's why people like me are so uncompromising in giving them up.
One final note: yes, I know that car accidents kill more people each year than guns. Maybe that's why all cars are registered, require a license and insurance, and are subject to endless safety requirements and recalls.
Or, then again, maybe cars are registered and licensed in order to provide additional revenue for the state. Safety requirements mandated by the federal government have often resulted in needless deaths, such as when airbags killed children or a myriad of "safey" regulations forced poor people to drive older, less-safe vehicles. The issue of recalls is completely separate. Any malfunctioning product will be voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer in order to avoid civil suits.
Manufacturers whose vehicles have mechanical or safety flaws can be sued.
The same applies to maunufacturers of firearms. The difference is, car makers cannot be sued if a drunk driver plows a car into an innocent person, whereas a gun manufacturer can be sued because of the fault of the user. That's wrong.
Many states are imposing a graduated licensing program to reduce the number of annual deaths among young inexperienced drivers. And remember that Mothers Against Drunk Driving persuaded the federal government to put pressure on states to raise their legal drinking age to 21. This resulted in a significant reduction in the number of drug driving deaths and injuries. Did we unfairly penalize responsible 18-year-old drinkers? Probably. But the lives we saved were worth the inconvenience of having to wait a little longer to have the right to drink. These are the kinds of public safety decisions we make every day.
But nobody has every died due to lack of a beer. However, 18-20 year olds have been killed because they didn't have the means to protect themselves. So, while the discriminatory drinking age is unjust, it is not life-threatening.
I am skeptical of Anonymous' claim that raising the drinking age to 21 resulted in fewer deaths. Indeed, when Colorado implemented the higher drinking age, driving deaths actually increased. True, drunk driving deaths have declined dramatically over the last few years. But this seems to be due to police taking drunk drivers off the streets and to increased education and public awareness.
Unintentional shootings have been declining this entire century, mostly because of the shift in gun ownership to semi-automatic pistols, which are safer than long guns. Training programs such as offered by the NRA have also played a role in reducing the number of unintentional shootings.
As Anonymous would know if she'd ever bothered to read the work of scholars working on issues of civil arms, automobiles are in many respects less-regulated than firearms. For instance, a ten year old can drive an automobile on private property (with parental consent). In fact, a three year old can legally purchase a car.
It's telling that Anonymous uses as her standard of comparison a socialized industry. The government ownes the roads, so naturally the government is going to make rules for the roads. But the government does not own my house, so it has no business legislating my use of a firearm in my house.
If Anonymous wishes to enact "safety regulations" for firearms, she might at some point attempt to detail the nature of the regulations and explain why they might work. The fact that she did not (and I suspect cannot) do so indicates the intellectual bankruptcy of her position.
(Hand written addition:) Maybe we should sponsor a summit meeting with law enforcement officials from countries that don't have a serious gun crime problem. We should ask them what the most important factor is in their success at keeping gun violence rates to a teeny weeny tiny fraction of the U.S.' And if they respond "It's the guns, stupid!" will you and your cohorts finally get the message?
Let me see: do guns play a role in gun crime? Well, duh. But as previously noted, GUN crime is not the appropriate measure. For when victims are disarmed, as they were in Australia, criminals are emboldened to attack citizens more often even without guns.
But no, I would not trust a foreign police agent who had the opinion that gun ownership is what causes America's crime rate, because that opinion is demonstrably false. As previously noted, gun crimes account for only 8% of America's violent crime rate. Obviously, we have deep cultural problems that have nothing to do with gun availability. As previously noted, these problems have a lot to do with drug prohibition and with gang activity. Foreign officials are frequently caught up in their own local politics and are therefore bound to be apologists for local policies.
However, comparisons across American counties might be more usefull. It turns out that areas with high rates of gun ownership have the lowest crime rates. Of course, that correlation doesn't prove causation, as rural areas don't suffer the drug and gang problems of big cities. Nevertheless, our rural police officers may have a great deal to teach us.
For example, Telluride Sheriff Bill Masters has the following to say about civil arms: "[G]un control doesn't work... Politicians, responding to the public's frustrated cry, will want to institute government programs that, cruelly, will only give us a false sense of security. New feel-good laws will be passed that will further restrict people's rights, cost more taxpayer money, and expand the role of government. None of the proposed regulations would have prevented the Littleton disaster, and none of them will have any real effect on the prevention of future atrocities."
So, Anonymous, now that you know "It's the gun control, stupid," will you and your cohorts finally get the message? (Somehow I doubt it, but there's always hope.)
Wish I could sign my name, but I fear the angry, irrational, immature, emotional, "law abiding" gun fanatics like you.
That is flagrant bigotry on the part of Anonymous and I simply will not stand for it. Anonymous has never even met me (I gather) and so has no basis for making such accusations. But bigotry is always necessary in order to rationalize mistreatment of any group. Gun owners are only the latest target of this sort of demonization.
It will be obvious to anyone reading my comments here that I employ logic and reason in my arguments, even if the reader ultimately disagrees with my conclusions. However, Anonyous has demonstrated that her personality, at least in respect to the issue of civil arms, manifests many of the traits she mentions. Angry, irrational, immature, emotional, and fanatical. However, I will not make the suggestion that Anonymous might try to physically attack me, even though she made the same libelous accusation against me.
Sincerely, A happily-married, sunday-school teaching, carpooling, volunteering, graduate-school-educated mother of five well-disciplined, courteous, respectful children, whose safety is more important than an anachronistic 200-year-old Amendment!
I am happy to hear that Anonymous' children are courteous and respectful, given the poor example set by their mother with respect to me.
It is my belief that civil rights are timeless and a necessary precondition of safety.
I too am happily married, etc., yet those personality traits are not relevant to the legitimacy of my arguments, any more than they are to the arguments of Anonomous. The positions of Anonymous relative to civil arms, and her bigotry expressed toward me, are not justified simply because she may otherwise be a good person.
Finally, it is unfortunate that Anonyous' graduate studies so obviously never included any coursework on statistics or logic, for she seems wholly incapable of handling either, at least with respect to the issue of civil arms.