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The Bankrupt Anti-Gun Movement

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IF THE CHARACTER of the anti-gun-rights forces was in doubt before the Million Mom March last spring, there is no longer any doubt. The statements of the leading participants vividly revealed them as demagogues who seek only to play on blind emotion in order to push an agenda that would violate a basic individual right: the right to defend oneself and one’s family from tyranny and crime.

Rosie O’Donnell, mistress of ceremonies of the Million Mom March, couldn’t have been more clear about what she wants for the American people. On ABC’s This Week program, Cokie Roberts asked O’Donnell what she thought of concealed-weapons laws. Said Roberts: “There is some evidence that those laws do reduce crime. But you would be against them?”

O’Donnell replied: “Of course I’m against them.. This is not the Wild West. I do not want to man [sic; Freudian slip?] all of the people in America. I want to remove the guns from the people who are bad and who should not have access to them. That’s what I want to do.. I want to take the gun away from the bad guy.”

So as O’Donnell banishes evil from the world, we must wait — defenseless.

That was the quality of what passed for argument from the people who spoke at the anti-gun rally. Emotion, hopes, and dreams void of reason, logic, and facts. “I care,” Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund chanted over and over, as though caring validates any statement that follows.

Former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen said mothers (but only the ones who agree with her) should be listened to because they are the ones who nurture the children. The fathers, who are merely the ones who go downstairs alone when a noise is heard in the middle of the night — well, who cares what a bunch of macho gun nuts have to say anyway?

Those activists truly are people who assume that their audience cannot tell the difference between thinking and wishful thinking.

O’Donnell would be surprised to learn that the “Wild West” was a lot less violent than some of America’s high-crime areas are today, mainly because law-abiding people had guns and knew how to use them safely. But the myth serves her purpose far better than the truth would.

More important is O’Donnell’s approach to public policy. She is no serious thinker, of course, but her statements reflect the thought process of many who would violate the right to keep and bear arms. An impressive volume of scholarship — not to mention common sense — supports the idea that criminals are deterred from attacking people who they suspect are armed. O’Donnell did not deny that. She merely emoted, “I want to remove the guns from the people who are bad.”

Okay. How?

We know how: by mandating trigger locks, licensing gun owners, and registering guns. (That’s what she and her colleagues own up to. It’s hard to believe that’s all they want.) It is incumbent on anyone who proposes a solution to a problem to show the connection between his proposal and the problem it is meant to solve.

It is less than obvious how trigger locks, licensing, and registration would “remove the guns from the people who are bad.” Would O’Donnell and her allies please explain why someone who intends to violate people’s rights through the use of violence (which is against the law already) will be deterred by gun laws?

If that worked, the Million Mom March would not have been held. The 20,000 gun laws on the books would have long ago eradicated crime. Ah, she has a response to that: “There are 200 million guns and 20,000 gun laws. So the guns are winning.” How can you argue with such a person? She also complained that each gun law has a loophole. Every conceivable gun law will have an intrinsic loophole: anyone who would use a gun to break the law would break the law to use a gun.

Will O’Donnell and company further explain how the use of trigger locks (not merely their inclusion with guns) will be enforced? Unannounced police inspections of homes, perhaps? Don’t give them any ideas. (As the rally approached, Texas Gov. George W. Bush announced a taxpayer giveaway of trigger locks. He’s also endorsed a trigger-lock mandate. This is the sort of thing that prompted F.A. Hayek in 1944 to dedicate The Road to Serfdom to “the socialists of all parties.”)

If there is no obvious connection between solution and problem and if the advocates of the solution refuse to draw the connection for the rest of us, we are entitled to assume that it is not a serious proposal at all. It is mere feel-good ritual. To use a subtitle from one of Thomas Sowell’s books, it is “self-congratulation as a basis for social policy.”

The road to confiscation

But it’s more than that. If the Second Amendment trashers get their way, the new laws will have no effect on crime, except to exacerbate it by harassing law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves and their families. The controllers will then go before the American people and say, “We tried modest measures, but they did not curb the crazy gun culture. It is time to ban guns altogether.” The disarming of the peaceful citizen will be in full swing. Registration historically has been the prelude to confiscation.

It is instructive to realize who was not asked to speak at the big rally in Washington, D.C. Among all those victims of gun violence, wasn’t there room for one speaker whose life was saved by a gun? (Guns are used to thwart crime at least a million times a year.) Could the organizers not find one person whose loved one might have been saved by a gun? People like that were across the mall participating in the Second Amendment Sisters’ rally in behalf of the right to own guns. They were scoffed at by the wishful thinkers who were too busy patting themselves on the back.

One of the Second Amendment Sisters is Suzannah Gratia Hupp, whose parents were killed along with two dozen other people when a gunman smashed into a Texas cafeteria and opened fire some years ago. Hupp might have stopped the killer, but her handgun was in her car; concealed carry was against Texas law back then. Later, as a member of the state legislature, she helped change that law.

Do statistics support gun control?

It is appropriate here to remind ourselves that crime and gun accidents have been falling. The gun controllers have an interest in making people believe that Columbine and like incidents are common and that every day toddlers are shooting fellow toddlers with the guns their parents leave around the house. Not so. If we judge how dangerous things are by how many kids are killed a year, we’d better outlaw swimming pools and five-gallon buckets. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), each year many more kids die from drowning than from being shot. Gun accidents involving children fell from 530 in 1970 to 181 in 1995, a drop of about two-thirds. Unintentional deaths from firearms for all ages fell by 18 percent from 1997 to 1998.

All deaths from firearms fell from 1.2 per 100,000 of population in 1970 to 0.5 in 1996. With gun ownership at an all-time high, gun safety is rapidly heading in the right direction.

Crime is also falling; there are many reasons for this, the primary ones being the measures that private citizens have taken, from home-security systems to gun ownership. Furthermore, most crimes — 88 percent — don’t involve guns! The guns used in crime represent a tiny percentage of the total number of firearms in the possession of Americans.

In other words, while isolated tragedies occur — and can be avoided by, among things, more gun ownership — there is no crisis.

Once you contemplate those facts it is understandable why the people who would abolish the natural right to acquire the means of self-defense and repeal by stealth the Second Amendment have to rely on emotion. They have nothing else to say.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.