More Guns, Less Sense?

Peter Hansen, a retired chemistry professor from Iowa City, recently had a guest opinion article in the I.C. Press-Citizen. It was titled, “Our love of guns is nutty.” The meat of the piece can be summed up with Mr. Hansen’s statement: “I fail to understand how any intelligent thinking person can believe that more guns, carried by more people, at more locations, will result in a safer and more peaceful society!”

I’m sure that Mr. Hansen is a nice man, but I’ve got some problems with the conclusions in his article. Since it contained several unanswered questions, I thought I’d take a crack at answering them for the good professor.

Hansen starts off the piece by invoking the senseless murder of a good man: Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas. A heart-wrenchingly tragic story always helps to stimulate emotions while clouding reason, a favorite tactic of anti-gun advocates.

Hansen then talks about the Virginia Tech shootings and the small but growing movement to allow concealed carry on college campuses. “Gun advocates maintain that had Virginia Tech’s students and faculty been armed, far fewer than 32 of them would have been killed in the 2007 mass murder,” writes Hansen. “Of course, gun advocates ignore the far greater likelihood of more frequent suicides, accidents and murders that would result from arming our campuses.”

As a self-styled “gun advocate” myself, I couldn’t swear that fewer people would have been killed if some V.T. faculty and students had been armed that day. That would still involve an armed “good guy” being at the exact right place at the exact wrong time. The point is that concealed carry on campus would lessen the likelihood of a shooting taking place at all.

According to “Multiple Victim Public Shootings” (2000) by professors John R. Lott, Jr. and William M. Landes, concealed carry laws (wherein private citizens are permitted to carry firearms) reduced a states likelihood of having a “multiple victim public shooting” (2 or more victims) by 60% and reduced deaths and injuries from MVPS’s by 78%. Their research also showed that the more restrictions that concealed carry states placed on where permit holders could carry their weapons (more “gun free zones,” like schools) the less of a reduction in MVPS’s the state experienced.

According to the study “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns,” (University of Chicago, 1996) by researchers John R. Lott, Jr. and David B. Mustard, states which implemented concealed carry laws reduced their rate of murder by 8.5%, rape by 5%, aggravated assault by 7% and robbery by 3%. There was no corresponding “greater likelihood of more frequent suicides, accidents and murders” as Hansen fears. We should expect similar results arming campuses, where only a few law-abiding faculty members and older students would qualify (or even want) to carry handguns.

Now allow me to answer some of his specific questions.. Hansen asks: “Why do Americans feel the need to own handguns to protect themselves from a potentially tyrannical government? Germans and Italians — who have experienced tyranny — don’t feel this need.”

Most Germans and Italians (and many Americans) would probably grudgingly submit to tyrannical government (as they have in the past). Does Mr. Hansen consider that a virtue? Many (but not all) American gun owners retain the anti-authoritarian spirit of our founding fathers who rebelled against a tyrant far less maniacal than the ones that the Germans and Italians tolerated and even supported. Apparently some Europeans have this spirit of resistance too, like the Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw ghetto. Armed at first only with a few pistols, they held off the Nazis longer than the entire Polish Army had been able to.

“Why do Americans fear that law enforcement officers cannot adequately provide for public safety?” he asks. Our law enforcement officers do good work, but the simple fact of the matter is that they cannot be everywhere when needed. The courts have ruled that police have no legal responsibility to protect any individual, only society in general. Even in the increasingly Orwellian surveillance-state that the British are creating, the cops can’t be everywhere. Violent crime rates against their disarmed populace are now higher than America’s.

“Why do Americans fear that strict handgun laws will inevitably result in hunters being denied their hunting rifles and shotguns? Other nations with very strict gun laws allow hunters to hunt,” writes Hansen.

Because in just about every jurisdiction where it’s tried, gun control begets more gun control. If handgun ownership for such a basic human right as self-preservation is not considered sufficient cause to own guns, then how can the recreational use of firearms be considered justification for very long? Hunting, if allowed at all, quickly becomes the domain of the rich and well-connected. Once firearms ownership becomes a purely recreational pursuit, bureaucrats like Rebecca Peters (head of the U.N.’s gun ban arm) can more easily tell you to “get another hobby,” as she snidely advised English sport shooters.

Hansen also asks, “To those who interpret the Second Amendment as an unqualified right to gun ownership, I ask, why did James Madison write, ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ Why didn’t he simply write, ‘The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed?’ Why the reference to ‘a well regulated militia?’ None of the five freedoms of the First Amendment are prefaced with a qualifying phrase.” This is a valid question.

In his book “The Bill of Rights Primer,” Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar explains: “[I]n 1789, when used without any qualifying adjective, ‘the militia’ referred to all First-Class Citizens capable of bearing arms. The seeming tension between the dependent and the main clauses of the Second Amendment thus evaporates on closer inspection- the ‘militia’ is identical to ‘the people’ in the core (First-Class Citizen) sense described above, encompassing adult male citizens eligible to vote, serve on juries, and hold public office. Indeed, the version of the Second Amendment that initially passed in the House, only to be stylistically shortened in the Senate, explicitly defined the militia as ‘composed of the body of the People.’”

Lastly Mr. Hansen asks: “[W]hen the Bill of Rights was submitted to Congress, what was meant by ‘arms’? Most guns possessed by hunters and farmers of that day were smooth bore muskets. Might those 18th-century congressmen have taken a different position had they observed the firepower of a Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum revolver?”

I doubt our founders would have taken a different position. General Washington, for instance, was dismayed when many civilian militiamen (hunters and farmers) showed up with muskets incapable of mounting bayonets. In short, he didn’t want them bringing the “hunting rifles” that Mr. Hansen alludes might be permissible. He wanted these civilians bringing their own military-style “assault weapons” of the day. The founders would want their militia to have the best (read “most lethal”) small arms they could get. Since today’s robbers and redcoats have better guns, the founders would have no problem with the militia upgrading their arms as well.

I hope this all helps Mr. Hansen to understand how some fairly “intelligent thinking people” can support an individual right to keep and bear arms. If it was helpful to him, I hope the next time I need help understanding that darned chemistry stuff he’ll be there for me.

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