— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 12 April 2013, was last revised on 28 April 2014. © Govinthenews Vol. 4:4(1).
Manchin’s big mistake
Watching and listening to Joe Manchin (D-WV), on 12 April 2013, as he tried to justify the bill he and Pat Toomey (R-PA) coauthored on gun control (ironically titled The Public Safety and 2nd Amendment Rights Protection Act), was an interesting exercise in legislative je ne sais quoi. When asked about the fears, expressed by some who had read the bill, that it would punish and infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans, Manchin replied that it does neither. Then he added, with a dismissive yet menacing air, that “Anybody who says otherwise is lying.”
That was a mistake. I’d read the bill, all the way through. It most definitely punishes gun owners and infringes on their rights. Manchin was calling me a liar.
I fired off an e-mail to both Senators, explaining what I had discovered, and asked them to set the record straight. I rarely write such letters, but this situation demanded that they be called to account. It was obvious to me that the legislation these Senators were proposing represented a dangerous challenge to the constitutionally-mandated gun rights of all responsible, law-abiding gun owning U.S. Citizens.
After writing the e-mails, I authored the first version of this article and published it here.
Three days later, Dave Kopel vindicated my conclusions. Writing in the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, Kopel published a scathing review of the Toomey/Manchin bill. Dave is a renowned attorney, Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law, Denver University, Sturm College of Law, and a coauthor of a pivotal book, Firearms Law & the Second Amendment; Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen Casebooks), the first law school textbook on the Second Amendment.
According to Kopel, even those parts that appear to extend and reinforce gun rights actually make the plight of legitimate, responsible, law-abiding gun owners worse than before. Far from providing laws against creation of a firearm registry, this bill facilitates it, and rather than make it easier to transport firearms across state lines, it sets the gun owner up to be railroaded into jail at the whim of an anti-gun-rights judge.
Armed with the truth…
Lots of extraordinary American citizens are speaking out these days, in favor of more gun control laws, without checking the facts. Being a celebrity in show business, or a well-known billionaire with loads of cash, adds weight to their written and spoken pronouncements, and many who hear them don’t put their words to the test. I expect every one of my words to be scrutinized. Ordinary citizens face monumental hurdles in our efforts to be heard above the din, unless we keep truth on our side.
That’s appropriate. Those who champion the 2nd Amendment have nothing on their side but the truth. Contrary to what some believe, though, that’s not an impediment. The truth is a powerful force.
The power of truth is linked to its endurance. Truth never dies, but lies die a fast death once they are exposed, at least within cultures that, in the main, prize the truth. Within subcultures dominated by loud authoritarian voices spouting lies, the truth isn’t allowed to judge the lies that culture has bought into.
Sadly, today’s America contains large subcultures that — for a variety of reasons we can’t get into here — don’t seem to care about the truth.
Those subcultures are in for a big letdown, because truth has a nasty habit of breaking through when those who cling to lies least expect it. Lies build foundations of sand that the winds and floods of truth blow and wash away, bringing the house that lies built crashing down.
Guns in the hands of sane, responsible, law-abiding citizens are a positive good because they save lives…
Those against guns because “guns kill people” need to realize how important guns are as life savers. Yes, they also take lives, and in a society that restricts gun ownership, guns are most often used to kill and maim innocent men, women, and children. This is true because in “gun-free” societies the only people who have guns are criminals, and criminals have no problem either getting their hands on guns or using them. Yet, in societies where gun ownership is encouraged and respected, the criminals are outnumbered by law-abiding gun owners, whose guns save lives much more often than they kill.
Did you know that by relaxing gun laws between 2007 and 2011 over 5,000 American lives were saved? If additional gun laws had been placed on America’s books during that same period, not only would those 5,000 lives have been lost, additional lives would have been taken as well.
Intuition and gun control…
Many of us “know” intuitively that guns are bad, but the truth is that guns are not bad, but good. Intuition, also known as common sense, is an important part of the decision making apparatus of the human brain, but it has severe limitations that most people know nothing about. In fact, when the subject matter is cloaked in several layers of logic, as is the debate about guns, intuition fails in comparison with rigorous analysis. Gun control — which is a complicated, multi-layered issue — is one of those topics with which intuition is entirely unable to cope.
Let me illustrate how intuition fails when things get complicated:
Back in the mid-1990’s, I served on the executive committee of a large Christian denomination. Several large churches in that denomination were, at the time, beset by a string of embezzlements, most of which were traced back to the treasurers responsible for handling and accounting for the tithes those churches took in each week. The conference treasurer was pressed to find a solution to the problem. The recommendations he submitted to the executive committee focused on one thing: punishing the offending church treasurers so that those who took their places would see their example and not make the same mistakes. Because of my investigatory background, I was asked by the committee to visit all the conference churches that had suffered embezzlements over the past two years, investigate the underlying issues involved, and analyze whether the conference treasurer’s recommendations made sense.
Over the next twelve months I did just that, and what I discovered was astounding. Not one of these treasurers had used the money to directly enrich themselves. Every treasurer who wrongly “borrowed” funds from their church did so for reasons they felt — at the time — to be biblically justifiable. One needed the money to pay a mountain of legal bills stemming from efforts to adopt a foster child from an abusive household. Another used the money to pay off medical bills so a spouse could receive the treatments needed to stave off the ravages of cancer. Practically every other case was beset by similar undercurrents. Don’t misunderstand; not one of these embezzlements could be justified; dishonesty is dishonesty, even when mitigating circumstances intrude, but every one of the treasurers I investigated honestly accepted the blame they were due. So I dug deeper, and found something more. Not one of the embezzled churches had been audited by the Conference treasury office for at least four years leading up to the embezzlement. Their churches were so big, and the tithe revenues they collected were so substantial, that the conference treasurer decided not to “waste time” auditing their books every year, despite strict requirements, plainly set out in the Conference By-Laws, for annual audits of the financial records of every church in the conference.
The temptation to steal from their churches, for a “worthy cause,” became overwhelming for some of these treasurers when they realized their books were not being scrutinized. They thought they could get away with it “long enough to pay the money back.” I went back to conference headquarters, sat down with the auditing staff, and examined the audits for the conference as a whole. Not one church that was being audited on an annual basis had suffered an embezzlement over the past ten years. When I submitted my report to the executive committee, I included all my findings, and made a singular recommendation: simply start auditing every conference church on an annual basis, as required in the conference charter. The conference treasurer was incensed. It would cost too much money, he said. No, I replied, not auditing is what costs the most, not only in lost revenues, but in lost souls who would never have been tempted to steal if they knew their books would be carefully pored over, year after year. In the end, the executive committee sided with me, and from that time forward — to the best of my knowledge (I soon after resigned my post on the Executive Committee) — every conference church was audited once a year. Since then, again, to the best of my understanding, the incidence of church embezzlements has practically ceased.
Criminality and accountability are inalterably opposed. When criminal behavior can proceed without the risk of immediate detection and retaliation, it grows more daring. On the other hand, criminality met with immediate, effective response from those it seeks to victimize is quickly halted. Now, let’s bring this back to the subject of guns and gun control: We cannot stop criminals from getting their hands on guns, but we can arm and empower our responsible, law-abiding citizens so they can stop crime the moment it occurs, taking away all the incentives criminals have for committing criminal acts.
When criminals realize the risks of crime are too great, they turn to more honest pursuits, and our culture’s character is strengthened. Intuition won’t tell you that. We don’t tend to think along those lines, because a culture’s character is something we think of as God-given, embedded at birth in our minds and souls, but experience proves otherwise. Character is built on the mountain of choices we make, and the lessons we learn from the consequences of our right and wrong choices as we march down the road of life, and guns in the hands of good people help bring the right and wrong choices criminals make into sharp focus like nothing else can.
In the hands of responsible, law-abiding citizens, guns are the most effective deterrent to crime and tyranny the world has ever known.
Most criminals with guns who commit criminal acts do so because they believe they can get away with it without being caught. Arming the public, so would-be victims of criminality can fight back with equal force, brings criminality to a stop. In the process, not only are those who would have been victims protected from crime, but their would-be tormenters are steered away from crime and into honest pursuits. The result of arming the public is much more positive than intuition would ever predict. Statistics bear that out, but don’t trust me on this, read on…
Just the facts…
The Public Safety and 2nd Amendment Rights Protection Act will not save lives, but will — instead — result in more gun deaths in America. That’s the hard, cold truth. How many of us have the guts to find out why that is true? Manchin pushed his bill by being either foolishly ignorant, or simply by being dishonest and deceitful. Neither is flattering… If it was what he said it was he wouldn’t have found it necessary to either — pick what you think is closest to the truth — ignore reality or evade the truth, but it wasn’t, so he accused his opposition of lying when, at least in my opinion, all they did was point out the truth.
But why did he do that? I suspect the answer is that he was preaching to a choir who wanted to hear what he was saying. This article, expressing a contrary view, is directed toward that same audience, in hopes some will recognize that Manchin was mistaken.
Honest politicians don’t lie.
Maybe Manchin wasn’t lying, but if he wasn’t, he was just not informed, and that’s about as bad as lying. Honest politicians never lie. Not even to push an agenda that their constituents favor. But honest politicians deserve to have honest constituents backing them up. If it takes lying to get a particular agenda to move through the U.S. Congress, that agenda needs to be taken out with the garbage, or redesigned to make it suitable for honest discourse. When we run our agendas up the flag pole and nobody salutes, we shouldn’t start lying about our agendas just to garner more support.
Instead, we need to educate our fellow citizens so they understand why our agenda is important to them. Sure, that takes time. It takes a lot longer to get where we want to be, but when we get there we need to be proud of the way we conducted ourselves, and certain of the long-term value of what we have accomplished. Honesty is always the best policy.
That approach doesn’t seem to resonate with everyone, and that’s sad. But the saddest thing for me is this: most of America doesn’t seem to care.
Does most of America care if Toomey and Manchin aren’t being truthful about their bill?
If what our politicians are saying helps push an agenda that lots of U.S. citizens want pushed, and lying is the only way to sneak that agenda past the rest of America, who have an opposite agenda on their minds, some may even want Toomey and Manchin to lie about it.
Who? The field includes people exhibiting a variety of motives, but some who put their agendas in front of the truth appear to be genuine victims of the most recent gun-violence massacres in America.
God bless them, they all deserve our prayers and sympathies for all they’ve been put through, but that still isn’t an excuse for lying. There is no honorable excuse for lying. Never…
Unfortunately, some gun-crime victims are pushing gun control for a very dishonorable reason: to get revenge.
The poisonous fruits of revenge:
They should know better. Revenge, which exacts retribution without due process for a perceived wrong, is never an honorable objective. It almost always leads to destructive, rather than constructive, results. Vengeful acts are not the acts of law-abiding citizens. Vengeful acts by groups of people, no matter how terribly wronged they’ve been, are acts of vigilante justice. And that makes them inexcusable, by any measurement devised by man.
In their righteous grief and anger it’s normal for them to want to to strike out at every reasonable target, but they should know that revenge is a wanton, unjust, and destructive force. When our loss is still fresh, the dangers of acting on our feelings aren’t as apparent as they are when seen from a more sober perspective. The family members of those victims need to sit tight, cool down, and let their senses connect again, so they can make clear judgments. Pouring their anger out on responsible, law-abiding gun owners is not the answer.
When Suzanna Hupp, a practicing chiropractor, lost her mother and father in the Killeen, Texas Luby’s massacre of 1991, she didn’t blame the guns that a crazed maniac used to shoot 50 innocent people, killing 23 of them. Instead, she blamed Texas’ restrictive gun laws that prevented her from legally carrying a concealed firearm with her that day. She knew that, if she had been armed, she would have been able to shoot back, likely preventing many of the deaths that that insane gunman’s unanswered gunfire caused.
Hupp campaigned for gun law reform in Texas, and became the architect of legislation that, in 1995, finally restored the rights of Texans to legally carry concealed firearms. Her public stand in favor of armed self defense for responsible law-abiding American gun owners led the way for other states to pass similar laws. Since then thousands of innocent American lives have been saved, thanks to her.
Some dislike law-abiding gun owners on general principles…
Few victims of gun crime are as objective as Suzanna Hupp. Unlike her, many take the low road of revenge, but — instead of saving lives — that only costs more gun violence deaths. And they are not alone. Some people seem bent on punishing gun owners and supporters of the 2nd Amendment on general principles. I’ve had discussions with such people, many of whom are good friends of mine. In general, no matter how hard they try, they cannot articulate why they feel the way they do. Why? Because, though they won’t admit it, their reasons are not rational. Hard as they try they cannot explain, in reasoned words that make logical sense, why they are so against guns. All they know is that, deep inside, they feel some unexplainable, visceral angst against people who own guns.
I’ve discussed gun ownership and the 2nd Amendment with a whole host of people from all walks of life, and I’ve found it instructive to delve into the “reasons” why those who favor gun control feel the way they do. Oddly, most who feel that way can’t discuss the subject objectively. One good friend of mine, for example, recently told me he disliked gun owners because they were “so arrogant.” Did he consider me arrogant? No, of course not. But I am a gun owner… Yes, he replied, but you’re different. How so? I asked. When pressed for examples of gun owners he considered arrogant, he couldn’t give any, except that years ago he’d seen some advertisements, in gun magazines, showing scantily clad women holding assault rifles, and macho men with rippling musculatures (nothing like me, of course) gripping high-powered handguns.
I’ve seen those ads, but — for some reason — they didn’t affect me, either in a negative or positive way. What about similar ads for automotive parts? Those kinds of ads are used all the time to sell cars and auto parts! Furthermore, cars kill more Americans each year than guns do. Did my friend swear off automobiles when he saw those ads? He and his wife have shiny new cars in their driveway… so, I guess not.
When intuition cannot be trusted…
Since many who are anti-gun are unable to explain the reasoning behind their anti-gun sentiments, I must conclude that their feelings emanate from intuitive sources, fed and amplified by their favorite anti-gun authorities. They’ve bought into all the simplistic justifications for such feelings, without checking them out. When someone like me challenges them, they get annoyed.
Many of my closest friends who are anti-gun avoid discussing their anti-gun beliefs with me, probably because they’ve always lost the argument, in past discussions, when (as I always make sure happened) reasoning was brought into the picture.
But back to the friend mentioned earlier.
I know I annoyed him by my questions, and today I wonder if I should have pressed him so hard for an answer, but let’s be honest: Isn’t it time to wake up to the fact that gun control is not as simple and uncomplicated as we think? Shouldn’t we expect that intelligent men and women would put intuition aside and start thinking for themselves? Rational judgements always trump intuition. If you cannot use simple logic — no, not “I just think that is the way it should be,” but “let me explain precisely why gun control makes sense” — to explain why you are for gun control, shouldn’t you be honest enough to realize your position might be based on total nonsense?
America’s responsible law-abiding gun owners share NONE of the blame for the calamities the victims of gun violence are suffering today. But today, as in times past, their detractors are eager to pounce on them. In doing so they ignore the real culprits, which aren’t so easy to define and characterize. And, by ignoring the real culprits, the problem doesn’t go away, but just gets worse. Isn’t it time we tuned into the real target, so we can solve America’s gun crime problem, once and for all?
Why are responsible law-abiding gun owners such easy targets?
Maybe because gun owners, in general, are so often defined in negative terms. Ordinary American citizens tend to see guns and those who own them in only one light, from a surface perspective. And that perspective, being the manufactured product of the American media, isn’t flattering.
Here’s one egregious example: during the days of the Wild West, i.e., before the turn of the 20th century, gun-related homicides, as a percentage of the population, were the lowest they’ve ever been in the history of the U.S., less than one third the gun homicide rate of today. Yet you would never believe that from the hype out of Hollywood. The Western shoot-em-ups suggest that the days of the Wild West were flooded with the blood of unbridled shootings, and that events like the shoot-out at the OK Corral was an everyday occurrence. That pervasive misconception colors the beliefs of most Americans today.
The truth about the Wild, Wild West is quite different from the way Hollywood portrays it. In the days of the Wild, Wild West, when practically everyone had a gun and knew how to use it, gun violence was almost unheard of. Guns were considered an effective tool, to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from harm. Gun owners of that era, just as the gun owes of the present era, were responsible and law-abiding. In fact, gun ownership and responsibility go together, which only makes good, logical sense.
True, a few gun owners are irresponsible…
… but they can’t claim to be law-abiding.
For example, we have laws against allowing unstable people to gain access to guns. The case of Nancy Lanza (whose son used one of her guns to kill her before killing 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school) is a sad, but poignant example: Her son was mentally unstable, and should not have had easy access to his mother’s guns. Once Nancy Lanza realized his mental state had declined, she should have acted in the manner of a responsible gun owner and locked her guns away, out of his reach. Sadly, she inexcusably failed the test of responsibility, and the rest — including the fact that she paid for her mistake with her own life — is history.
The vast majority of gun owners are responsible to a fault, which explains why the Wild West was a period of relative calm, and why incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting are so rare, even today. Isn’t that the real test we should be using? That kind of massacre is so rare it should never be allowed to influence the enactment of future gun legislation, particularly legislation directed at punishing responsible, law-abiding gun owners. But gun owners are easy targets. Politicians know they can beat up on gun owners all day long without suffering political repercussions. In fact, they know they will be praised for beating up on gun owners, which helps explain their strong appetites for such egregious behavior. The media — movies, television, dime-store novels — portray gun owners as irresponsible and guns, themselves, as evil, and anything “evil” is fair game…
From cradle to grave our citizens are bombarded by the media with negative images about guns. The typical individual has never held a gun, done any target shooting, or hunted with a gun. To such people, nothing positive can be said or thought about guns.
It is no wonder, then, that to most people the simplest answer to gun violence is a quick knee-jerk no-brainer: get rid of all the guns, and the world will suddenly be a better, happier, more peaceful place.
No guns = Peace & Happiness? I wish…
OK, I admit it. I’ve wished that were true. It’s a beautiful, wonderful idea, one that the human mind grasps intuitively and hangs onto for all its worth. Like Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and… we could go on and on with examples of beautiful ideas that are intuitively compelling but built out of mere dreams that do not accord with stark reality. Stark reality is crucial in the debate about gun rights. Ignore stark reality in favor of fairytales, and innocent people — sometimes lots of innocent people — may die as a direct result.
Here’s a taste of stark reality for you: the fairytale solution of banning guns to produce peace and happiness isn’t true.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
America’s Gentle, Little Souls…
History proves that guns in the hands of courageous, law-abiding people are the very opposite of evil. But don’t try to tell that to someone who believes otherwise.
When its open season on gun owners, truth and reason go out the window. In our sound-byte world, the truth about guns saving many more lives each year than are lost to gun violence is buried in the horror, blood, and gore splashed nightly on the evening news.
Emotion takes over, and America’s “gentle little souls,” whom we tend to think of as harmless little fuzz-balls who couldn’t harm a flea, go for the jugular.
The consequences of new laws: who should be held responsible?
When gun laws are strengthened, and it becomes harder for law-abiding, responsible citizens to trade, buy, or sell guns, gun crime goes up. Not only does gun crime go up, but the rate of gun crime is linked directly to the increase in gun control measures. The linkage is indisputable. Don’t take my word for it, study the statistics from the FBI’s own data base for yourself. America’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, within the U.S. Department of Justice, has all the numbers dating way back to the American Civil War, and they tell an interesting tale. Are you willing to delve into what that tale has to say? If you aren’t, what does that say about your honesty? If you are, congratulations! You may be one in a million, but keep reading…
OK, you’re possibly one in a million! Pretty long odds, don’t you think? Your lawmakers, in general, are not any better. As long as lawmakers and those who push them to pursue their agendas are able to do so without ever worrying that they will be held at least partially accountable for their actions, they have no incentives to think before they act. That must stop. At the very least, the real consequences of their actions should be tabulated and broadcast far and wide, so everybody will know the negative results of what they have done.
What is the truth? The REAL truth?
The real truth about guns is this: the more guns there are in the hands of law-abiding Americans, the safer they and all those around them will be. Again, that explains why the Wild, Wild West was a period of relative calm in America’s history. Contrary to those who favor restricting gun rights, there is an inverse relationship between legal gun ownership and gun violence. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Yes, the higher the rate of legal gun ownership in a society, the lower the rate of gun violence within that society.
For example, almost all of the gun-related massacres that have taken place in the past twenty years have occurred in so-called “Gun-Free Zones.” Schools all across our country are gun-free-zones where responsible law-abiding gun owners are prohibited from carrying concealed firearms. That doesn’t keep criminals, and the mentally unstable, from taking illegal guns into such places, where they know they can wreak gun-violence havoc without being challenged by a responsible, law-abiding gun owner.
The definition of a true “Gun-Free Zone”
True gun-free zones are places where practically nobody but law enforcement personnel are allowed, legally and through enforcement actions, to carry a gun, concealed or otherwise. Notice the wording: “legally and through enforcement actions.” If a supposedly gun-free zone is not triply enforced by (1) law, (2) the imposition of strict, thorough inspections of the persons and belongings of all who enter, and (3) the presence of adequate armed guards to ensure the law and aforementioned inspections are carried out to the letter, it isn’t a true gun-free zone. Instead it is a farce, because — while law-abiding people cannot — criminals are allowed to carry guns in such places with virtual impunity.
If no armed guards are usually present, or if only one or two armed guards are provided to guard a large complex, and if those who enter are not thoroughly inspected in their persons and belongings to ensure they are not bringing a firearm into the area, it cannot logically be considered a true, legitimate “gun-free zone.”
Does this definition fit what we normally consider, today, to apply to what are termed “gun-free zones”? Not by a long shot. And why not? Because, for one thing, it costs too much to pay for enough armed guards to patrol such areas — like our schools, colleges, universities, nursing homes, hospitals, medical clinics, churches, and shopping centers — with sufficient presence to protect against armed intruders. And surrounding such places with high fences topped with razor-wire, and restricting access to a minimum number of entries and exits, each of them with X-ray equipment and trained inspectors with wands, not only costs too much but slows entry to such places to an unacceptable crawl. Only a few high-security areas like courthouses, jails, prisons, and the like can handle the expense and deal with the temporal impositions such measures impose.
Ah, but we have lots of farcical, so-called “Gun-Free Zones”…
So, instead of true gun-free zones, America today has a multitude of farcical, so-called “gun-free zones” that are, in reality, nothing of the sort. Legislating that people cannot carry guns in specific places, without putting armed guards in those places and inspecting all who enter to ensure they aren’t carrying guns in violation of the law, is a farce. As one observer put it, “if that works, maybe next they’ll outlaw potholes.” Imagine that. Outlawing potholes. Think that would work? Nobody would be that stupid. Yet, most Americans seem to think that outlawing guns in so-called “gun-free zones” will ensure that criminals won’t take guns there. Why are we so smart when it comes to potholes, but so stupid when it comes to guns? It boggles the mind…
Criminals and mentally unstable shooters don’t care about how many gun-free-zone laws they violate, but they are cowardly people who pick gun-free zones to kill innocent people because they know the risks of being stopped by an armed citizen in such places is just about nil. Most “gun-free zones” don’t have armed guards today. Most won’t have armed guards tomorrow, either. The cost is too high to pay an armed guard to defend innocent life in all the designated gun-free-zones in America.
Ironically, allowing licensed citizens to carry concealed firearms in such places costs nothing.
But its not a grocery store, its a School!
Oh, I forgot — its a “school.” Whoa! We can’t let legally armed citizens carry guns into our schools, where our young lads and lasses learn, study, and play, can we?
One question: What’s the difference between a school and a grocery store? In states where concealed carry is legal, parents, kids, babies, and oldsters like me are sometimes surrounded by armed citizens carrying concealed handguns, and we don’t even realize it. All those guns are hidden away, where we can’t see them. We know it’s legal to carry concealed firearms in such places, but do we think twice about taking our children with us when we go to buy groceries? Of course not. That wouldn’t make any sense at all. Why, the same is true for walking down the street with your kids. Or taking your kids to a fast-food place for a hamburger. Or to the movies — Wait, some theaters have signs prohibiting concealed firearms; so theaters are safer, right? Ask those who were in the Century Movie Theatre in Aurora, Colorado, on 20 July 2012, when an armed gunman, in violation of the theatre’s strict “no-gun policy” opened fire, killed 12, and wounded 70 others… so, maybe not.
Because of today’s prevailing concealed carry laws, the rate of robberies taking place in grocery stores of all sizes has dropped by a large margin since 1995. Today it is safer to take our kids with us to the grocery store than it has been since 1910. Maybe even safer than taking them to a so-called “gun-free” school.
Gun Violence in the USA is declining
Here’s another truth you might find interesting: Violent crime is on the decline in America today. You’d never believe that by listening to the evening news, yet the rate of violent crime in the U.S. is — today— about one third what it was in 1994. What happened to put the rate of violent crime into a steep decline, beginning in 1995? Hold on to your hats, now, because this is a shocker: All over America, states began to reverse a trend, begun by our legislators in the mid-1960’s, to criminalize the concealed carriage of handguns.
Before 1964 most of today’s gun laws didn’t exist. In those days a citizen could carry a loaded handgun onto a commercial passenger airplane with impunity and nobody asked and nobody cared, because the 2nd Amendment was taken for granted and that was that. In those days all American airline pilots were required, by law, to pack a handgun in the cockpit when their airplane was carrying U.S. Mail, and nobody asked them how or where they carried that gun. There were no laws governing the where or how, only that they had to do it.
Though gun laws had increased a lot — some 30-60 years earlier — between 1905 and 1934, only a small number of those laws were still on the books in 1963. By comparison with the long list of today’s gun laws, they were short and sweet. In addition, America’s gun crime rate was also low. It was still more than three times the rate of the wild west, but much less than it had been in the period between 1906 and 1934, when draconian gun laws had been enacted, ostensibly to curb gun violence resulting from labor union tensions and, later, the rampant criminal activity that took place during the era of Prohibition.
Prohibition criminalized the sale and distribution of liquor throughout the U.S. It was pushed by the “gentle little souls” of that period as a sure-fire way to reduce crime and make Americans more civil and responsible. Intuition predicted that Prohibition would be a smashing success. But it worked exactly the opposite way those supposedly gentle, little souls predicted. Crime soared, reaching the highest levels ever recorded in American history until then. Civil disobedience and general irresponsibility likewise soared. Few, if any, of the nation’s law enforcement agencies at local, state, or federal levels, were untouched by the rampant corruption of that period.
After the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, gun laws that had been enacted to deal with criminal activity connected with trafficking and consumption of liquor began to fall by the wayside as well. Suddenly, crime throughout the U.S. started to decline. By the time I was born, in 1942, U.S. homicide rates had been cut in half, from a high of 10/100,000 to around 4.5/100,000. Except for a rise in homicide rates in the first years following WW-II, those rates remained steady throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The Assassination of JFK…
Then came 1964, following the 22 November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Despite the fact that nobody could possibly think Lee Harvey Oswald represented America’s responsible, law-abiding gun owners, laws against allowing civilians to carry concealed firearms were enacted all over the United States. That knee-jerk reaction cost America countless innocent lives over the next thirty one years.
I remember those days very well. I was in VietNam, serving with the U.S. Air Force, when JFK was killed. When I’d left the U.S. to head overseas, America’s gun laws were reasonable, and gun violence in the U.S. — though three times the rate that prevailed during the Wild West — were relatively low. As mentioned earlier, during most of the 1950’s the gun homicide rate in the U.S. held steady at about 4.4-4.5/100,000 people.
When I returned from VietNam to the U.S. in 1964, America’s gun laws were being bolstered almost daily as new gun control legislation was introduced all over the country. Politicians from both parties seemed bent on making a name for themselves, catering to America’s “gentle, little souls.” Despite the evidence, from the horrific crime rates during Prohibition, they gave no thought to the negative effects that their new laws would wreak upon our nation. And, much like what happened during Prohibition, America’s homicide rate rose daily at about the rate of the new gun law enactments. It went from 4.6/100,000 in 1963 to over 5/100,000 in 1964. I returned to VietNam in early 1966, and didn’t get back to the U.S. until late 1967; by then America’s homicide rate surpassed 6/100,000. It had gone up more than 30% in less than four years! But that was just the beginning…
Not only were gun laws being enacted willy-nilly at local and state levels, but soon sweeping gun-control laws were in place at the federal level as well. The Gun Control Act of 1968, signed by LBJ on October 22, 1968, was one of the most draconian pieces of gun control legislation ever to be signed into law in the U.S. Four years later, in 1972, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was formed as an arm of the Treasury Department, even though — from all indications — it merely duplicated the functions of certain units within the FBI, and wasn’t needed. Eleven years after that, in 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated background checks on all who purchased firearms through licensed firearm dealers, was passed by Congress, signed into law by President Clinton, and took effect in 1994.
Ironically, as more and more restrictions, at every level of government, were placed on gun ownership in the years that followed the assassination of JFK, the rate of violent crime only got worse. Dramatically worse. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. more than doubled in the next ten years, going from 4.6 per 100,000 population in 1963, to an official rate of 9.4 per 100,000 in 1973, and 9.8 in 1974. So how did our illustrious lawmakers react to that news? They enacted more and more gun laws. And, to their utter astonishment, the rate of violent crime just climbed higher (though exactly how high is not known because, from all indications, statistics on gun crimes from 1973-1991 were underreported by the Justice Department).
By 1980 official homicide rates in the U.S. exceeded 10/100,000, establishing a record never before seen in this country. It is interesting to me that the upward curve in America’s homicide rate during this period was much steeper than that recorded in the years between 1905-1933. In both cases the official homicide rate leveled off at around 10/100,000, but it took only a decade to achieve homicide levels that, in the earlier part of the century, had taken 30 years to reach. I attribute that difference to the speed of communications in today’s world. Americans then, much like they are today, were bombarded with information. Criminals become informed quickly when their criminal activities become less restricted as the result of changes in America’s laws, and they adjust their behavior in accord with the information at their disposal.
Do you understand what that means? When criminals discovered that they were the only ones carrying guns in public, they realized America had declared open season on victims, and they immediately took advantage of the situation.
The speed of communication has skyrocketed since then. This suggests that enacting stronger gun laws today will cause America’s homicide rates go up even more quickly than in times past. It also suggests that relaxing America’s gun laws will cause gun homicide rates to decline with the same rapidity. But don’t expect our citizenry to comprehend the cause-and-effect relationship involved, because we have been fed the fallacious notion that when homicide levels rise we need to enact new gun laws to bring them down. That, of course, is the exact opposite of what we should do…
The Law of Cause and Effect:
A few of our brighter legislators of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s pointed out the connection between restricting gun ownership and violent crime, but to no avail. Our legislatures, at federal and state levels as a whole, wouldn’t buy it, no matter how much evidence was brought to bear. Even our presidents — including conservative ones like Ronald Reagan — were strong advocates of gun control, despite the objective evidence that showed gun control was costing lives instead of saving them. Reagan, of course, was shot by an assassin, and that confused the issue in a significant way. He survived, but out of that experience America gained a strong, illogical, misguided voice — in the person of Sara Brady — for gun-control that has since fought fiercely to keep guns out of the hands of America’s responsible, law-abiding citizens. The number of deaths attributable to that woman’s well-intentioned but misguided efforts number in the tens of thousands. Deaths caused, not lives saved. But don’t trust me on that; read on, if you have the courage to do so…
Out of that period came a saying, spoken by the wise, that we still hear today: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” How’s that for a real no-brainer? If you take guns away from law-abiding gun owners, and make it impossible for them to legally carry concealed firearms in public, the only people carrying guns in public are (1) peace officers, and (2) criminals.
That fact led to another saying: “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” Criminals knew, back then, that they could pull a gun on an ordinary citizen, demand their wallet, their virginity, their lives, or whatever they had that the criminal coveted, and the citizen would have to fork it over. Often, even after giving the criminals what they wanted, the victims lost their lives anyway. Robbers and rapists don’t like leaving witnesses alive to testify against them in court.
In Florida, during the 1970’s and most of the 1980’s, it was common for at least two gun homicides to occur in state roadside rest areas every night. Homicide rates in Florida were higher than the national average during most of this period and, indeed, had exceeded the national average in the 1960’s, before JFK was assassinated. Why that was true is a matter of conjecture, but may be related to the tourist trade that led to lots of temporary visitors, from all over the country, that made strangers normal. Being a stranger in Florida didn’t raise an eyebrow, so criminals were able to come and go without being noticed. In 1963 homicides in Florida were just over 8/100,000, almost 35% higher than the national average of 4.6. That rate more than doubled, along with the national rate, over the next ten years. But doubling, in Florida, meant that its homicide rate exceeded 16/100,000, while that of the nation was — by comparison — “only” 10/100,000.
So violent crime soared, and kept on climbing as long as those laws remained on the books. As long as our elected officials refused to recognize the cause and effect relationship between more gun laws and more violent crime, violent crime remained on a steady and deadly upward trend.
Remember this: Criminals are cowardly human beings…
When criminals realize that ordinary, responsible, law-abiding citizens have the legal right to carry concealed firearms for protection, their calculation of the risks of a life of crime changes. As they learn of more and more examples where ordinary citizens, who didn’t seem to be armed, pulled their guns and ably defended themselves against an armed attacker, they begin to question if the risks are worth it. Most criminals, when faced with high risks of getting shot for pulling a gun on apparently unarmed civilians, think twice about their criminal aspirations.
Once the tables are turned, so criminals no longer think everybody on the street is an easy mark, they start looking for a different line of work. As America’s criminals give up their lives of crime for gainful employment, the character of America changes. Think that over. We can return to the mores of the 1950′s. If we do, that result won’t come from taking guns away from America’s citizens, but from relaxing our gun laws, and by vesting our trust — as a nation — in our responsible, law-abiding, gun-owning citizens. Don’t believe it? Healthy skepticism is a good thing, but read on…
Florida’s Amazing 1987 Experiment
Desperate for relief from burgeoning levels of gun crime, Florida did a most unusual counter-intuitive thing: the state enacted its first state-wide, “shall-issue” concealed carry law in 1987. Shall-issue meant that any law-abiding, responsible citizen who applied for a concealed carry permit would be issued one, so long as they were old enough, took the required training course, and were legally allowed to own a gun. It was an experiment, to see if there might actually be any truth to the notion that if you relax restrictions on carrying concealed handguns, the gun homicide rate would fall. To the surprise of all who were against gun ownership, that experiment was a monumental success. By 1994 the homicide rate — in Florida, but not elsewhere — was cut in half, to a level below what it was in 1960.
I repeat: The 1994 homicide rate in Florida, which in 1963 was 35% higher than the national average, was down to the NATIONAL homicide rate that had prevailed in 1963. The only known factor involved in bringing the Florida homicide rate down to this level was the enactment of the state’s concealed carry law. Elsewhere in the U.S. homicide rates continued as before.
Next came 1995, when — taking the lead of Florida — more and more states, including Texas (spurred on by the seminal work performed by Suzanna Hupp), enacted similar shall-issue concealed carry laws that enabled ordinary citizens, once more, to carry handguns concealed on their persons in public. And as the earlier, draconian laws against concealed carry were reversed, the rate of violent crime throughout those states with strong concealed carry laws started to drop. It’s that simple.
Well, maybe not exactly that simple. Nothing is as simple as it looks. Other things took place in 1995, too.
For example, this was the first full year the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated background checks on all who purchased firearms through licensed firearm dealers, was in operation. This act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, didn’t take effect until the end of February, 1994. Later, when homicide rates fell in 1995 and each year afterward, proponents of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act claimed credit for the decline. However, no credible evidence has ever surfaced in support of that conclusion, and the experience of Florida, between 1987 and 1994, proves to many that the actual credit should go to the relaxation of America’s gun laws.
The Brady Act had Nothing to do with reducing Gun Violence…
Criminals rarely obtain their guns from licensed firearm dealers. The Brady Act, like all the gun control legislation that came before it, did nothing to address illicit gun trading between criminals. Furthermore, the increase in homicide rates occurred as a direct result of the enactment of draconian gun laws, not because gun buyers suddenly weren’t undergoing background checks. It is natural, and rational, to conclude that the decline in homicide rates was the direct result of the relaxation of gun laws, allowing civilians to carry concealed firearms in public.
Again, the most persuasive evidence against crediting the Brady Act for subsequent reductions in homicide rates is the experience of Florida, between 1987 and 1994, when that state’s newly-passed concealed handgun licensing law was in operation and the Brady Act didn’t exist. In that seven year period, the decline in Florida’s homicide rate mirrored the later national decline that began, in 1995, once most states adopted their own concealed carry licensing programs.
Gary Kleck, Marc Gertz: Dignifying Acts of Armed Self-Defense…
Another important milestone in 1995 was the publication of a landmark study, by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, entitled, “Armed Resistance to Crime: the Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun.” This study, published by Northwestern University’s School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, broke new ground in many areas related to guns, gun-crimes, and the use of guns, to defend against crimes, by victims of those crimes.
Kleck and Gertz begin their paper by dispelling what were, in those days, a number of important crime-victimization myths.
One of these was the prevalent notion, based on intuition but not on fact, that crime victims must necessarily have, in some manner, brought the crime upon themselves. Thus, since a crime victim could not — under that assumption — be presumed innocent of any wrong doing, the victim would not be justified in defending through the use of lethal force, even if in fear of imminent death. Today, it is difficult for many Americans to imagine that such idiotic notions prevailed, but I can attest to the fact that they did. Further, many of our citizens, today, continue to buy into the “victim-as-crime-accomplice” model, and presumably base their reluctance to approve of civilian use of lethal force to defend life and limb on their unthinking acceptance of that model as valid.
American culture, in 1995, had to change its view on the relationships between criminals and their victims. That change has been taking place, albeit slowly. Today we still are not at the place where, as a society in general, we accept that innocent victims have the right to defend themselves against criminal attackers. I’ve noted that lack of acceptance in many of my anti-gun friends, especially when we discuss gun control in general terms. Yet, when we get to examples like the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, they have nothing to say except that “Allowing armed civilians inside our schools is a bad, bad idea.”
Why Don’t the Lives Saved by Reduced Gun Violence get counted?
Even those who believe in the “victim-as-crime-accomplice” model, though, can’t easily explain away the association between relaxing American gun laws and the precipitous decline in gun homicides that immediately followed. Allowing Americans to carry concealed firearms resulted in a drop in gun homicide rates that continues even today.
Of course, the anti-gun crowd disputes that relationship, but facts are facts.
Or are they?
I had a discussion on this point the other day with another good friend who has strong negative feelings about gun ownership. It was no surprise that he also had no appreciation for the value of statistics. “You can make statistics say whatever you want them to say,” he told me. “I don’t trust them.” It is true that you can manipulate statistics for deceptive purposes, but I question his suggestion that raw statistics can be made to say whatever you want.
If statistics, compiled by a governing body from more-or-less accurate mortality records presented by various reporting entities, seem to indicate what you don’t want to believe, maybe the honest reaction would be to reconsider your beliefs…
The statistics we are examining here come from the FBI’s own data base, as compiled by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Good statisticians stand by their numbers. They don’t manipulate them if they can help it, but honestly report the compilations they produce from raw data. Safeguards are in place (most of the time) that prevent the compilation of numbers that are biased, one way or another.
Sometimes the stats are not reliable, but when that happens we eventually learn of the discrepancies and, most of the time, the statistics compilers make amends. In fact, reputable sources claim that the gun homicide deaths recorded for the period 1973-1991 were underreported for many jurisdictions, making the stats for that period appear to show declines when no declines occurred. Those numbers, however, have never been corrected. Perhaps the underreporting jurisdictions simply cannot resurrect an accurate count at this late date.
Except for the undercounted homicides between 1973 and 1991, the statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Justice are considered reliable. The FBI’s statistics on firearm murders from 2007-2011 show that the decline in gun-related homicides continues to the present day, and that today’s gun homicide rate is the lowest it has been in more than a hundred years, since 1910. 2007-2011 is a convenient period of time, when the decline was relatively moderate, yet the implications of that decline are more significant than they appear to be on the surface.
The total firearm homicides recorded in 2007 was 10,129. Because that was the year of the Virginia Tech Massacre, I have taken the liberty of omitting the 32 gun deaths from that crime in the numbers cited below. My purpose is to keep the number for that year more in line with the years that followed, with or without comparable massacres. Otherwise the larger number for 2007 only bolsters my conclusions more:
The figure for 2007, excluding the deaths at Virginia Tech, comes to 10,097:
—- That number dropped to 9,528 (-569, or -5.6%) in 2008, then to 9,199 (-329 from the previous year, or -3.5%, and -898, or -8.9% from 2007) in 2009, to 8,874 (-325 less than in 2008, another decline of -3.5%, and -1,223, or 12.11% less than in 2007) in 2010, and to 8,583 (-291, or -3.3%, and -1,514, or 15% less than in 2007) in 2011.
Over that five year period, total gun-related homicides declined, in 2011 alone, by 15.00%. If we tally the cumulative declines, for the entire five year period even without considering population increases, a total of 4,204 citizens who would otherwise have been expected to be killed as the result of gun violence got to stay alive another year. And, from all indications (I’m open to suggestion; show me what else might have caused this decline), their gift of life stems directly from the relaxation of gun laws that, in times past, have restricted the ability of responsible, law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves in their homes and on the street.
Here’s an interesting — and for some, quite perplexing — fact associated with that truth: when states began relaxing their restrictions on gun ownership, and enacted laws allowing ordinary law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns, the anti-gun crowd screamed bloody murder and predicted with absolute certainty that the rate of violent crime would skyrocket. But — mystery of mysteries — it didn’t. The exact opposite occurred, just as Dr. John Lott, in his book “More Guns, Less Crime,” said it would.
Let’s look at these statistics more closely, and account for normal population increases. Over the period 2007-2011 the U.S. population rose about 0.9% annually. Normally we would expect the national gun homicide rate to keep pace with that, and if it had done so, we would have seen the following gun homicide totals (again, using the smaller figure of 10,097 for 2007) for the years 2008-2011: 10,188 — 10,280 — 10,327 — 10,465. This suggests that, in 2011 alone, America had 1,882 fewer gun homicide deaths than the rate for 2007 predicted. What about the total number for the entire five year period? If the gun-homicide rate in 2007 had continued in 2008 and onward through 2011, a total of 5,246 more homicide deaths would have occurred than were actually recorded over that period:
— 2008 (10,188-9,258=930) + 2009 (10,280-9,199=981) + 2010 (10,327-8,874=1,453) + 2011 (10,465-8,583=1,882) = 930 + 981 + 1,453 + 1,882 = 5,246 fewer gun homicides recorded, from 2008-2011, than the rate for 2007 suggested.
If Only One Life Can Be Saved?
Politicians and the leaders of various anti-gun organizations use a number of slogans to rally the citizenry in support of their gun-control legislation. One of the most popular of these is that gun-control is justified, even “If Only One Life Can Be Saved.”
That one life they speak about: whose, exactly, is it?
And why is it they never talk about the lives that are doomed by their legislation? Gun control legislation never saves lives, but always results in a loss of life. That’s what the statistics show, but that fact has been lost on our politicians and our citizens to the point that we don’t even think about it.
That has to change.
It makes no sense not to use some kind of measuring method to calculate the loss of life that gun-control legislation has produced in the past. And, as we’ve just seen in the previous section of this article, that loss can be considerable.
In fact, it is much greater than the presumed savings in lives that gun-control advocates can point to in their favor, even assuming that their best estimates prove true. For example, in 1963, the gun homicide rate was 4.6 per 100,000 of population. If the gun control legislation of 1964 and onward had actually reduced the gun homicide rate to the lowest recorded levels in history, namely that of the Wild, Wild West (a bit over 1 gun-homicide death per 100,000 people), we would have seen a savings of 6,500 in 1964 alone. That would have been amazing, but nobody — not even those who support gun control — suggests it was possible to do that. In fact, as mentioned earlier, gun control laws never have the effect of reducing gun homicide rates.
The gun control legislation of the mid-1960’s was enacted by — from all the evidence I’ve seen — ignorant legislators in a vain and misguided effort to keep the gun homicide rate from rising, not to force it to drop (it was already considered to be low). And, of course, that legislation was expected to lessen the risk that criminals would target our elected officials. Instead of stabilizing the gun homicide rate, however, the rate trended upward at an alarming rate. By 1974 — only ten years later — it had reached the staggering rate of 9.8 per 100,000. At that rate, we were losing over 20,000 lives to gun violence each year (the figure reached and exceeded 25,000/year not long afterward). History shows, too, that our elected officials — along with certain controversial, high-profile figures who were not in elective office — faced more, not less, risks of being targeted by criminals and the mentally ill during that period.
The gun violence rate in the U.S. finally turned around in 1995, due almost entirely on the relaxation of gun laws, and continues in a downward trend today. As shown, in the figures presented in an earlier section, we can see that trend as saving more than 5,000 lives between 2007-2011. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that some, and maybe even all, of those who would have died — had things remained the same over that period — were spared as a result of the concurrent relaxation in gun ownership restrictions over that same period?
Want to see homicide rates as low, today, as during the days of the Wild West?
An amazing drop in gun homicide rates, to the levels experienced during the wild west, is possible. If America’s gun laws were relaxed to the level of the laws in force prior to 1905, gun homicide rates would almost certainly drop as low as 1/100,000. All who understand the underlying issues know that such rates are realistic when gun laws are relaxed.
Yet, nobody is seriously suggesting relaxing our gun laws to that level today. Why? Isn’t it important to save those lives, today? Don’t they matter? If they do, why aren’t we pushing to relax our gun laws further? If they don’t… what does that say about the state of American politics, today?
What about the Lives Lost to Gun Violence from 1960 to 1995 due to the restrictive gun laws of that period?
It is interesting to note that nobody gives much thought to the many thousands of extra gun homicide deaths that took place from 1960 to 1995 because of the restrictive gun laws of that period. Don’t they matter? Are the extra lives that were taken during that period less important than the lives that were taken at Sandy Hook? And aren’t the legislators who enacted the draconian gun laws that resulted in the deaths of so many innocents, at least logically responsible for those deaths?
On the flip side of that coin, what about the lives that were spared from 1995 forward to the present day? Shouldn’t we rejoice over the gift of life they received, every bit as much we mourn those who died in the terrible tragedies in Tucson, Arizona, in Aurora, Colorado, at Fort Hood, Texas, and in Sandy Hook, Connecticut? Isn’t it time we celebrated the lives that have been saved due to the relaxed gun laws of 1995 and onward, and give them the same attention as we give to those who lost their lives to gun violence at the hands of a few mentally deranged individuals, not one of whom could possibly be described as a responsible, law-abiding gun owner?
Gosh. If we did that, wouldn’t Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin be enacting legislation to relax gun laws, especially those that restrict access to guns by law-abiding citizens? That makes sense. But they aren’t doing that. Instead, they seem bent on making gun laws more restrictive for law-abiding citizens, taking us backward to the days before 1995 when ordinary citizens could not defend themselves in their homes or on the street, without doing ANYTHING to curb criminal activity.
That’s a riddle. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess they don’t care about saving lives and protecting the innocent. It almost looks like they are more concerned about saving their jobs, protecting the cheats, liars, and lobbyists who line the pockets of crooked politicians and promise to help them stay in Washington, where they can live it up, lie their pants off all they want, and nobody cares.
Instead of relaxing gun laws, these guys are proposing legislation that makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to trade, buy, and sell guns. Not only that, but the legislation they are proposing includes cleverly worded provisions that set the stage for the de facto registration of America’s firearms. And that, in turn, appears to set the stage for the eventual confiscation of America’s firearms. That should worry all Americans, because if and when that happens, only outlaws will have guns and violent crime will skyrocket, this time with gusto.
2013: New Gun Control Laws are approved in Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado
Repeating the mistakes that were made in 1963-1964, the Democratic governors of Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado signed into law the restrictive gun laws passed by their state legislatures in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre. Each of these governors is being congratulated for making their states “safer.” But we can predict what those new gun laws will do, and making the citizens of Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado safer isn’t in the cards.
In the years to come, so long as the new gun laws are on the books in these states, gun violence will climb higher, rather than decline as their legislatures claim. History is our witness, and those who refuse to pay attention to the truths that history presents to us are doomed to repeat the dismal experiences those truths display.
Today responsible law-abiding gun owners are able to buy and sell guns with relative ease, at least in Texas:
Local and state laws vary, from state to state. Texas is one of the least restrictive, but others may be even less restrictive than we are, while many more are much more restrictive. It is important for you to check the laws of your state before transacting to trade, buy, or sell a gun, and if something in the law is unclear to you, find an attorney familiar with gun laws in your state to get good answers to your questions.
Texas citizens have many resources available to help them ensure they obey the law when they trade, buy, and sell guns. This article is not the proper place to post such information, because (1) I am not an attorney, and (2) laws change, sometimes overnight. As a responsible, law-abiding gun owner, it is incumbent on you to do your due diligence by researching the laws of your state and local jurisdiction to ensure you do not violate those laws. The Internet is a valuable resource for that purpose, but when you use an Internet source, it is best to check more than one source to make sure you don’t miss something.
The relative ease with which law-abiding citizens can trade, buy, and sell firearms in Texas and many other states makes it easier for law-abiding citizens to stand up and defend themselves and others from criminal acts. But for that fact, the rate of violent crime in America and Texas would not have dropped so rapidly, if at all, when restrictions on gun ownership began to relax in the mid-1990’s. It wouldn’t have made much difference to allow ordinary law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms back then, if it wasn’t also easy for ordinary law-abiding citizens to get possession of a firearm suitable for them to carry.
It is important to realize that criminals have almost no trouble getting any kind of gun they want, whenever they want it. They could care less how many laws they violate in the process, so — and this is a crucial truth — gun laws don’t affect them. Gun laws only affect responsible, law-abiding gun owners. Talk about discrimination! Yet, that is how gun laws work. They restrict the ownership of guns among the responsible, law-abiding citizens of this country, and don’t do a thing to restrict ownership of guns by criminals.
Now notice, I said the traders, buyers, and sellers must be law-abiding citizens. Both parties must have the legal right to own and possess firearms. Otherwise, by trading, buying, and selling firearms they will violate the law. We must get that straight in our minds. Law-abiding citizens can be trusted. In fact, they MUST be trusted. The 2nd Amendment anticipated that law-abiding citizens would be granted, without restriction, complete trust by their government. We’ve lost sight of that anticipation, to our great loss as a nation.
Trust confers important obligations, but those obligations are recognized and understood by those who abide by the law. For example, all law-abiding gun owners are responsible for ensuring that they transact their firearms purchases and sales with individuals who are not prohibited from owning and handling firearms. Law-abiding gun owners do that. I know from experience that, as a group, law-abiding gun owners take strenuous steps to stay within the strict boundaries of the law when they transact to trade, buy, or sell guns to, from, and with other gun owners. We can — no, MUST — trust them to act in full accord with the confidence we vest in them. History shows that when we do that, we as a nation are rewarded with a multitude of courageous, trustworthy individuals.
When we don’t trust our law-abiding citizens with such heavy responsibilities, the loss is much greater than we imagine. Think that over. Our nation’s most precious commodity — simple trust in our fellow man — goes down the drain. Such trust used to exist throughout this nation, and we were all the better for it. Have you heard anyone reminisce about the good old days, when nobody locked their front or back doors? When we left the keys in our cars, and never had to worry that someone would steal it? The ingredient that leavened our society with goodness back then was trust. And that’s what is missing in society today.
Internet-mediation of gun transactions:
One reason responsible law-abiding gun owners can trade, buy, and sell guns with relative ease in places like Texas has to do with the Internet. A number of websites exist today for the sole purpose of facilitating transactions between American gun enthusiasts who want to trade, buy, or sell guns to other American gun enthusiasts. It is a wonderful resource that, if taken away, would severely punish gun owners nationwide. Of course, we have to trust our law-abiding citizens to conduct themselves as such, which isn’t much of a concession, if you think about it. The Internet is no different from other methods of marketing, just more efficient and less expensive. Why should law-abiding citizens be treated any different just because they are using the Internet to trade, buy, or sell their guns? They should not. Period. That should be the end of the story, and today — at least as long as the bill that Toomey and Manchin seem to be trying to force on us isn’t yet the law of the land — it is.
Today, if you want a particular handgun, rifle, or shotgun, you can search the Internet and — with a little luck — you’ll find another trustworthy, law-abiding citizen of your state who has what you want and is willing to sell it to you at a price. Hundreds of thousands of such legal transactions take place in the U.S. every year between law-abiding individuals who take it upon themselves to make sure they abide by all the laws that apply, including the fact that law-abiding citizens must be careful not to violate laws that restrict the purchase and sale of firearms by individuals residing in different states. Those laws vary a little across the country, so citizens know they have to do their research, and abide by the laws they are bound by. That’s what “law-abiding” means.
Though Internet-mediated firearms transactions are vilified by some as an important source of illegal guns, little evidence is available to support that claim. We do know, of course, that criminals — i.e., citizens and non-citizens who do not obey the law — try to take advantage of the ease with which law-abiding gun owners can trade, buy and sell guns via the Internet, and once in a while they even succeed. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen from time to time.
Should we make it harder to conduct such transactions over the Internet because a few bad apples try to game the system? Please. That wouldn’t stop the bad apples, and would punish the good ones. There are rational ways to deal with the bad apples, though. In fact, law enforcement agencies know how to prevent what little Internet-mediated trafficking in illegal firearms takes place: charge every crook involved with a crime as soon as the crime is uncovered, and prosecute those crooks to the hilt. Let it be known that crooked dealings on the Internet won’t be tolerated. That will bring such dealings to a halt, but the shocking truth is that such crimes are rarely charged, and those that are prosecuted result in mere slaps on the wrist.
A study by Ronald J. Frandsen, conducted under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, showed that our government doesn’t seem to care when our laws — even our gun laws — are broken. If all the energy our nation is expending on the question of gun-control is any indication, the citizens of the United States of America want our gun laws enforced. Nobody disputes the often-stated notion that a rigorous enforcement of existing gun laws will have a beneficial and chilling effect on gun crime. So where is the push for stronger enforcement?
I’d stand up and cheer if Pat Toomey, Joe Manchin, Chuck Schumer, and anyone else in the U.S. Senate got together and issued a statement to the effect that “We’re not going to introduce new legislation, because new legislation isn’t needed. All we need to do is enforce all the gun-related laws on the books.”
Why have they not done that? Maybe a significant fraction of their constituents don’t want them to. It would be interesting to find out how many of their constituents either break our existing gun laws, or have friends or family members who do so, in the knowledge that lax enforcement of those laws lessens the risk they or their family members and friends will go to jail. How many of our U.S. Senators fear a backlash from them, at the voting booth, if they stand up for strong gun law enforcement?
Back to Frandsen’s investigation: it focused on the adjudication of criminals who try to buy guns from licensed gun dealers, but whose applications were denied via the NICS background check. In 2010, for example, out of 72,659 total NICS denials, 34,459 were for felony convictions or indictments. An additional 13,862 of those denied were fugitives from justice. Still, only 62 of these 48,321 denials were referred to the courts for prosecution, and only 44 of those were prosecuted.
When government refuses to enforce the laws that are on the books, how can you know who to trust? Today, the easiest way to know whether a person is trustworthy or not is — pay attention, now — their public stance on gun ownership. Interesting, isn’t it? But it’s true. When a citizen willingly stands up for gun rights — no, I am not talking about the few fanatics out there on the edges of sanity, but ordinary, law-abiding citizens who know, love, and appreciate the raw wisdom in Heinlein’s dictum that “An armed society is a polite society; manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life” — he or she willingly puts honor in the balance. Thinking persons don’t do that unless they’re confident they can face the muster. Gun-owners are expected to adhere to a higher standard. They are scrutinized with care, and judged more harshly than their fellows. They have to walk a finer line than most. And in the process, their mettle is tested in ways others scarcely understand.
Punishing and Infringing
Under the legislation proposed by Toomey and Manchin, however, gun-owners — who should be honored and trusted for the good they do — are instead treated with a calculated disdain. Individual buyers and sellers of firearms will no longer be allowed (trusted) to trade, buy, or sell their firearms with the ease that characterizes today’s firearms marketplace. Instead, they would — with only a few exceptions (the list of exceptions varies depending on who is talking, but read the bill, it is not only very limited, but contains gotchas that are more likely to land a body in jail than to protect them from unconstitutional encroachments on their rights) — have to (1) find a federally licensed gun dealer, who would (2) conduct a background check on both the buyer and seller, (3) describe the firearm in detail, including the model, make, and serial number, in a written record that is kept in the dealer’s bound record book, and (4) charge a fee for the service.
These steps amount to much more than mere inconvenience. Besides the added cost, they punish law-abiding gun-owning citizens by forcing them to have their firearm transactions, which are legal in all respects under the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, mediated by a licensed third party, at that party’s place of business, during normal working hours.
Furthermore, step 3 infringes on their rights, under the 2nd Amendment, by causing the transaction to result in a paper record — that describes the firearm in detail — in the licensed dealer’s bound record book. The result is tantamount to registering the firearm, because the licensed dealer’s bound records are subject to review by governmental agencies.
Right, I know… Toomey and Manchin inserted language that “guarantees” that the licensed dealer’s bound records CANNOT be used to as a means of compiling a firearms registry. In fact, compiling a firearms registry that way would be illegal, but let’s be honest, shall we? The records are there. Everything the government needs to compile such a registry is there. Don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that — just because it is against the law for the government to seize those records and and use them to compile a firearms registry — it won’t happen. I’m from the old school. I know the drill: if it can be done, it will be done, at the worst possible time.
Here’s what Dave Kopel has to say about that: “The proponents of Schumer-Toomey-Manchin are making a big deal about the criminal penalty of up to 15 years for violating the bill’s narrow restrictions on some forms of federal gun registration. A federal prosecution would, of course, have to be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is to say the very Department which would have violated the anti-registry provision in the first place. Expecting felony self-prosecution seems highly unrealistic. A far more effective anti-registry deterrent would have been a civil cause of action, with liquidated damages and attorneys fees, against any individuals who participated in the creation of a registry.”
This isn’t my first rodeo, capiche? From all indications, it isn’t Dave Kopel’s first time in the ol’ chute, either.
How this bill affects criminals:
Do unlawful firearm transactions take place between parties who are prohibited from owning and possessing firearms? Yes, they do. Nobody disputes the fact that criminals trade, buy, and sell firearms among themselves — and sometimes criminals even attempt to engage in firearms transactions with unsuspecting law-abiding citizens — in every state.
However, the bill introduced by Senators Manchin and Toomey will have no impact whatever on those illegal transactions. Criminals, by definition, don’t care how many hoops law-abiding citizens are required to jump through to buy guns legally. Instead, they know how to bypass those hoops altogether, so they can continue to buy their guns illegally.
Illegal Trafficking in Firearms 101
Studies conducted by law enforcement agencies indicate that criminals almost never obtain their guns from law-abiding citizens. When they do get them from law-abiding citizens they do so by stealing guns from them, but — according to ATF Agent Jay Wachtel, as quoted in the PBS presentation Hot Guns — theft only accounts for 10-15% of the illegal guns used by criminals. So, how do most criminals get their hands on the guns they use in their criminal activities? Again, in Hot Guns, How Criminals Get Guns, Dan Noyes points to a 1994 ATF study conducted in southern California that concluded that most criminals get their guns through illegal straw purchases.
Here’s how a straw purchase works: a criminal pays someone who has no criminal record to accompany them to a gun store, where the criminal picks out the gun they want and their accomplice, who has no record and therefore won’t be in the NICS background check database, buys it for them. In a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, straw purchases like this amounted to 46% of all illegal firearms sales between July 1996 and December 1998.
The bill introduced by Senators Manchin and Toomey won’t change that. Straw purchases of guns, by individuals who don’t presently have a criminal record, for criminals whose records prevent them from buying their guns in their own names, will continue unabated under this legislation.
Read it for yourself: Though it didn’t get passed, it hasn’t gone away…
I hope all interested American citizens will take the time to read through this bill, ironically (outrageously?) titled The Public Safety and 2nd Amendment Rights Protection Act. Read it for yourself. Beware of relying on what the authors of this bill are saying about it to the public, because — from all indications — they are not being entirely honest in their presentations.
During the first half of April, Toomey and Manchin made the talk show circuit, giving their views on what the bill does and doesn’t do, and practically everything they said was crosswise with the facts. Not only does this bill punish law abiding citizens and infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights, but it also mandates the spending of $millions of tax dollars, not merely to expand background checks on law-abiding citizens who trade, buy, or sell guns, but to establish a special commission to “study” all the causes of mass violence in this country.
As if we needed another study for that purpose. We know the cause of mass violence in this country. With almost no exceptions, every perpetrator of the massacres that have taken place in the USA over the past few years has had a common personal condition: the person or persons committing the crime were mentally ill. An apparent exception to this was the massacre at Fort Hood, carried out by a U.S. Army Psychiatrist (ironically) who, as a faithful Muslim, murdered his fellow soldiers in the name of Allah.
Later in the month, a vote taken in the Senate garnered only 54 of the 60 votes necessary for the measure to pass. Harry Reid voted against it, not because he was against its passage, but in a parliamentary ploy that enables him to resurrect the bill later, if additional support surfaces. The bill may be on life support, but it is not dead…
Joe Manchin has not given up…
Over the weekend of 27-28 April 2013, Joe Manchin appeared on a number of televised forums to confirm that he is moving forward with plans to reintroduce his failed gun control bill. On Fox News Sunday, he said that, although Pat Toomey and several other key senators are no longer on board with those plans, he still is, “with all my heart,” he proclaimed.
“The only thing that we’ve asked for is that people would just read the bill. It’s a criminal and mental background checks strictly at gun shows and online sales,” Manchin said, adding that the confusion arose from a misperception that gun owners’ purchases would be tracked by the federal government.
It is Joe Manchin, however, who is confused, not his fellow senators (kudos to Pat Toomey, who appears to have come to his senses, though an article on CNN reports that Manchin still believes he can count on Toomey’s support if the bill is resurrected) who have backed away from this bill, and not America’s gun owners who realize, without any doubts in their minds, that the added background checks his bill mandates will ultimately pave the way for firearm registration. A special article, devoted to connecting the dots on that issue in a clear and concise way, is under construction and will be posted here soon.
- Cooper, Alexia & Erica L. Smith. 2011. Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Frandsen, Ronald J. 2012. Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2010. U.S. Department of Justice.
- Hunt, Kasie. 2013. NBC Politics: Gun Rights Group endorses Toomey/Manchin Bill.
- Inside Straw Purchasing: How Criminals Get Guns Illegally. Mayors Against Illegal Guns
- Kleck, Gary, and Marc Gertz. 1995. “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun” Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86:1
- Johnson, Nicholas J., David B. Kopel, et al. 2012.Firearms Law & the Second Amendment; Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen Casebooks)
- Lott, John. 2010. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Third Edition (Studies in Law and Economics). Univ. Chicago Press
- Noyes, Dan. PBS Hot Guns: “How Criminals Get Guns”. Public Broadcasting System.