Bigots at the Violence Policy Center
by Ari Armstrong, April 21, 2005
The disarmament group Violence Policy Center (VPC) repeats a vicious lie about gun owners on its web page: "The harsh reality is that too many Americans love their guns more than they love their children."
The VPC's statement is pure bigotry. In reality, none of the scores of millions of responsible American gun owners loves their guns more than they love their children. To suggest otherwise is to stereotype gun owners as vicious, even sub-human monsters who suffer severe mental instability. In the past, similar bigotry has been on display against groups such as Jews and homosexuals in mid-century Germany, property owners in Soviet Russia, intellectuals in China, and various ethnic groups in the United States.
The VPC's wildly hysterical character attack serves to impugn the motives of its opponents, foster the legal persecution of peaceable and virtuous Americans, foment bigotry against and stereotyping of gun owners, and distract attention away from rational debate. After all, if your opponents are vicious monsters indifferent to the death of children, rather than upstanding citizens with good reasons behind their actions and political views, what need is there to take their arguments seriously?
The VPC's web page continues: "In a Knight Ridder /Tribune article distributed nationwide, VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann writes: In just 10 days last month, two mass murder-suicides -- one ending in a Minnesota high school, the other taking place during a religious service in a Wisconsin hotel -- left a combined toll of 18 dead and more than 10 injured. As Americans go through the familiar ritual of asking how this could happen, the National Rifle Association has a stark answer articulated by former head Harlon Carter more than 20 years ago. America's gun death toll, he explained, was simply 'the price of freedom.' 'The price of freedom': More bodies."
Yet the VPC scrupulously avoids relevant facts and picks out one misquoted, out-of-context remark on which to base its attack. In reality, advocates of the right of gun ownership make quite different arguments in support of their views, starting with the fact that gun ownership also saves lives. At least hundreds of thousands of times every year, Americans use a gun, usually just by brandishing it rather than by firing it, to defend themselves from criminal attack. The majority of states have passed right-to-carry laws because such laws have a proven benefit in reducing crime -- unlike the anti-gun laws endorsed by VPC. So the main argument made by those who advocate the right of self-defense and of gun ownership is that freedom is a necessary prerequisite for safety.
There is, of course, a grain of truth to the view VPC attacks. All matters of liberty can result in some bad consequences: what's crucial is to look at the benefits of liberty on net. For example, the First Amendment protects the Neo-Nazi hate literature that the school shooter at Red Lake found so appealing. Protections against unreasonable searches and seizures sometimes let violent criminals get away. Religious freedom sometimes allows for fanaticism. Every year people die pursuing recreational activities such as boating, swimming, and skiing. Every year roughly five times as many deaths are associated with automobiles as are associated with gun-related homicides (and close to twice as many when we add gun-related suicides), and many of those automobile deaths involve recreational activity. Irresponsible sex can be deadly. The drug alcohol is used responsibly by most people, both for recreational purposes and for health benefits, yet it is associated with tens of thousands of premature deaths every year along with 42% of violent crimes, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Yet VPC doesn't therefore argue the government should repeal the First Amendment, lift all restraints on police searches, control people's recreational and sexual activities, return to alcohol Prohibition, or generally restrict every freedom that can be abused, which means every freedom. Of course we must also count the benefits of freedom.
VPC argues that the freedom to own a gun should be further restricted, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of gun owners use guns responsibly, that guns are almost always used safely for recreational purposes, that guns are frequently used to defend against criminals, and that the sort of disarmament laws VPC endorses are a proven failure ignored by criminals and damaging to upstanding citizens.
True enough, some legal restrictions are appropriate and protective of freedom. For example, the use of a gun to threaten or attack somebody is properly illegal. Property owners retain the right to set gun policies for that property. Existing child-abuse statutes already allow parents who harm their children intentionally or through negligence to be prosecuted. Minors are restricted from purchasing guns (as well as alcohol). Assisting a violent criminal is also a crime. In general, the legal restrictions of guns that are appropriate and useful are already in place.
VPC's strategy, then, is to demonize gun owners rather than to take their arguments seriously. This explains why VPC generally cherry-picks its data and utterly ignores the substance of contrary statistical evidence, economic theories, criminological studies, and historical treatments. Sure, VPC will sometimes mention contrary views, but generally to serve the purposes of propaganda, not to seriously respond to its opponents. After all, if gun owners are horrible monsters indifferent to the death of children, if their view of freedom is that it causes only death, then there's no reason to take seriously their arguments. VPC adopts as its starting premise the view that gun owners are inherently depraved and irrational, a premise that can allow only the responses of character attack, propaganda, and political force against gun owners.
Fortunately, VPC's hysterical attacks on the character and motives of gun owners and advocates of the right of gun ownership has backfired. The quickest glance at reality proves VPC's central presumptions wrong. For the most part, Americans recognize that self-defense is a fundamental human right grounded on the right to life, and that gun owners are generally responsible people with good reasons behind their views and actions.