L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 313, April 3, 2005
"The War on Guns"
The War of the Wrong
Special to TLE
Just as there is a War on Drugs and a War on Terrorism ongoing in this country, there is a war without such a catchy name that continues unabated in America. That is the War on Guns. And just as the War on Drugs has spent billions of dollars with quite literally nothing to show for it but growing incidences of violence and the highest incarceration rates in the world; and as the War on Terrorism has cost untold losses of liberty to date; the War on Guns has prohibitive expenses all its own.
The grassroots forces in the War on Guns like to say that they're "pro-gun control" or "for the children." In reality, they're anti-gun at best, and card-carrying members of the rights-denial contingent as a matter of course. These are people who will take a fact and exaggerate it beyond recognition, or who will take inconvenient facts and obscure them in entirety with passionate rhetoric. There's no denying the emotional commitment that many of these people have to their cause. The problem, however, really lies in their ethical shortcomings.
The recently expired Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) actually gives real insight into the mindset of the Million Mom March, the Violence Policy Center, or the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The AWB, which went into effect in 1994, was passed largely as a "feel good" measure. It made some politicans look like they were concerned about gun violence at the same time the law was essentially worthless. Though the anti-gun advocacy groups praised the AWB, and even demanded its renewal and expansion before it sunsetted in 2004, the reality of the AWB was that it addressed almost nothing but purely cosmetic features of various "ugly" firearms. The banned firearms, outside of appearances, didn't fire different calibers at greater speeds than many hunting weapons not affected by the ban. This shows that anti-gunners are far more concerned with how things look than with how they actually are.
To reinforce that premise, consider that there is currently an ongoing effort in some states as well as in Congress to make .50 caliber rifles illegal. These firearms, say opponents, have no "legitimate" sporting use. Further, they say, such high-powered rifles are a criminal's or terrorist's best friend in that they can foil body armor or even the skin of a jetliner at some distance.
What isn't saidlargely because it would be inconvenient for the anti-gunners' caseis that almost any caliber bullet can foil body armor depending on proximity (and, of course, body armor is worthless when the wearer is shot in a place not covered by the armor), or that a bullet in an airplane won't make it crash (outside of an incredibly lucky shot that hits both pilots or some crucial hydraulic not blessed with redundancies). And perhaps the biggest "secret" of all, held tightly to the heaving bosoms of those afraid of these high caliber firearms, is that they've not been used in criminal activities. Anywhere. Ever. (There is one alleged case, but it is still being debated.) These firearms are simply too big, heavy, and expensive to appeal to the criminal element. But merely by being big and heavy, they also scare people who are already afraid of guns.
The biggest problem for anti-gun groups is that, despite the shrillest of warnings, those states which have passed concealed carry legislation aren't seeing gun battles or blood in the streets. In fact, despite growing levels of gun ownership in America, violent gun crime is actually continuing on a downward trend. Gun-related accidents, too, continue on the decline. To counter these facts, gun control advocates often use legitimate statistics in illegitimate ways. For example, the Brady Campaign has often cited the death of "children" as being paramount in its efforts, yet because the numbers of children killed aren't sufficient for its purposes, it considers those up to the age of 19 as "children" so as to bolster the numbers. Further, among those older "children" are those killed as a direct result of participation in gang violence or suicide (overall, at least half of gun deaths are suicides rather than homicidal or accidental in nature).
Another common tactic of the anti-gun lobbying groups is to present absolute numbers rather than the same numbers in context. By suggesting that hundreds die as a result of firearm-related accidents, firearms sound horrifically dangerous. But taking the numbers in context shows that firearms accidents are actually quite uncommon and that, in absolute terms, are safer than automobiles, swimming pools, or even stairways. And once gun control groups have glommed onto some "fact," they're dislinclined to let it go regardless of the evidence against it. A prime example of this dubious tactic is the so-called Kellerman study. That study "showed" that those who had a gun in the house were 43 times more likely to be victims of gun violence than those in households without a gun.
After some years of heated debate and studies that showed Kellerman's numbers were much exaggerated if not fictionalized all together, even Dr. Kellerman distanced himself from his own study. He has acknowledged that a variety of factors weren't taken into consideration in either the study or its results, and that the numbers weren't just off, but were dramatically inflated. And yet look on the web sites of these gun control groups and see for yourself that the unaltered original Kellerman study is still freely quoted. (The Million Moms and the Brady Campaign actually break the numbers down, but still persist in quoting the original 1988 Kellerman study as the source.)
Because many people, however, have been exposed to the facts through the efforts of opposing groups, the gun control movement has had to extend its reachand its suppositionsstill further. For a few years now, advocacy groups have been blaming gun manufacturers for gun violence. Most of us know that that's akin to blaming auto manufacturers for car accidents, or water utilities for falls due to wet floors. The worst part of this particular blame game is that the advocacy groups know it. They're not trying to win any cases (though in the unlikely event they do, they'll certainly take the win and gloat over it). Instead, by filing lawsuits, they're doing their level best to bankrupt gun manufacturers.
The Second Amendment has caused enough trouble for them even with its unfortunately ambiguous interpretation by some. So they figure to cut guns off at the source since they can't do anything about keeping them out of the hands of the end user who has, of course, every right to own his firearm. Congress has finally decided to look again at taking some action on behalf of a legal and important American industry by considering legislation to protect gun manufacturers from these frivolous lawsuits. Needless to say, gun manufacturers support such protection. Just as obviously, the Brady Bunch et al oppose the legislation.
The opposition would be fine, except for one small thing: The gun control groups are once again omitting select facts to bolster their own hysterical case. The Brady Campaign web site is currently headlined with a plea for action because, "The National Rifle Association and other extremists in the gun lobby are once again gearing up to deprive gun violence victims of their legal rights." By this, they are trying to tell American consumers that any lawsuit shield legislation would prohibit them from suing a gun manufacturer under any conditions.
Not only is that not true, it's deliberately and maliciously false. The shield legislation offers no protection whatsoever if a gun manufacturer releases a product that's unsafe when used properly, nor would it protect a manufacturer who broke the law. All that it does is absolve the maker if a firearm is later used in a crime. After all, how could a manufacturer possibly know in advance that a given weapon, legally and properly made and sold, would ever end up in the hands of an irresponsible criminal?
Unfortunately, a law that was at least briefly considered in Illinois, would have demanded just that. The legislation would not only have provided punishment for a merchant who sold a gun knowing the buyer was going to commit a crime, but for a merchant who "should have known" a buyer was going to commit a crime. Gun dealers must already clear purchasers through a background check. Once that check is clear, however, only some psychic ability would permit a dealer to know more! Up until a week ago, that requirement might have been laughable. Although the legislation didn't get far in the Illiinois legislature, the fact that it showed up in the first place is an indicator that no premise is too bizarre nor is any prohibition too far-fetched for consideration where firearms are involved.
Where the rabid anti-gunner is concerned, even the mere thought of a firearmmuch less a picture of oneis a promotion of violence and simply too much to tolerate. A New Hampshire high school student has been prohibited from having his senior picture in his year book because the picture he chose included a shotgun (the boy is an avid skeet shooter, and he rightly considers the photo depicting his hobby no different from the photos of other students with the props of their choice). While court rulings in this particular case have been made largely for and against First Amendment rights, the reality is that the photo wouldn't have caused a stir in the first place if it didn't involve a gun. Meanwhile, a student in Indiana won his First Amendment case when authorities demanded he remove a t-shirt because it included a rendering of an M-16 along with the Marine creed. Officials claim the shirt promoted violence which is against school policy; I'm inclined to think the shirt promoted the Marines and patriotism (something school officials also probably frowned upon but lacked the nerve to say).
While prohibitions on t-shirts and yearbook photos are nuisances (as well as unconstitutional), the gun control advocacy groups also work to cause real danger in their mindless opposition to firearms. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, commercial airline pilots suggested that arming themselves might be a good last resort defense against terrorist hijackings. I tend to agree with that idea, and the fact that the majority of airline pilots are ex-military men (and women) just makes them that much more qualified to shoot under hostile conditions.
Yet the Brady Campaign came out against arming pilots, saying: "Can we ensure that a weapon on an airplane will not fall into the wrong hands? Could firing the gun in a plane compromise its integrity, causing it to crash? When would pilots be authorized to use guns?" The answers are simple enough: Yes, because the pilots are well trained enough to shoot before somebody gets close enough to take their firearms away; highly unlikely even if the guns weren't loaded with frangible ammunition; and whenever, in their judgement, it's damned well necessary to use them.
Underlying the entire scope of the mission of the gun control campaigners is the most damaging illusion of all. These people honestly seem to believe that making guns illegal (or at least close to it) will stop criminals from using them. Despite the fact that criminals freely rob, rape, murder, and more at the point of a gun, these people seem to think that one more law will halt the bad guys in their tracks. If they really believe that, why don't they demand a law that makes it illegal to break the law? That would cover the bad guys while still permitting the good guys to freely exercise their rights. But that won't happen because this isn't about the law. It's about guns.
Meanwhile, since these folks are so enamored with legislation, I've got an idea for a law of my own. Let's make it against the law for people to deliberately misuse statistics or to maliciously exaggerate facts to generate fear of firearms. The gun manufacturers can live with that since they're not the ones who are lying. The Million Momswho are blatantly fibbing even where their own name is concernedthe Brady Campaign, the Violence Policy Center, and a whole raft of politicans, however, will be in real trouble. That's the kind of gun law I can live with.