"In this speech I am going to set out unfamiliar concepts and facts. I shall explain and defend the concepts and I entreat anyone who wants citations for the facts to ask for them.
The first of my unfamiliar concepts is that the gun control debate is not really about criminology but rather about bigotry and the effort of an influence group to force its morality on everyone by having it adopted as state and federal law. To see this it is necessary only to review some unfamiliar facts:
Though these facts have been uniformly established by numerous sociological studies, they will doubtless surprise you almost as much as they would the anti-gun movement and the media. After all the former (which is actually a gun ban movement), with the enthusiastic aid of the media, have succeeded in stereotyping gun owners as violence-oriented yahoos -- educationally, intellectually and morally retarded.
There is a word for people who inaccurately, unjustly ascribe negative characteristics to a whole group of others they dislike: that word is bigot.
Let me approach the matter from another direction. A couple of years ago right here in Sacramento some nuts who happened to be of some kind of Asian extraction -- I don't recall which and, of course it doesn't matter -- took a bunch of hostages in the course of a robbery and ended up shooting them. Now if I were to attribute that conduct to Asians as a group I would rightly be thought a bigot. But denouncing "gun owners" as a group and attributing such crimes to that group is commonly thought entirely appropriate.
Suppose I were to call gay leaders who oppose banning gay bath houses callous, selfish collaborators in the spreading of AIDS. The same public health leaders who support banning bath houses would nevertheless denounce such bigoted language. Yet such vituperation is commonly aimed at gun owners and gun leaders for opposing gun bans without anyone (except perhaps the targets) seeing anything wrong or even exceptional about it.
Of course the difference is that, as we all know, owning a gun the ordinary average person puts family and friends at risk; as the Coalition Against Gun Violence puts it, most murders "are committed by law-abiding citizens who might have stayed law-abiding if they had not possessed firearms." Except that, as a criminologist I know no such thing. Criminological studies uniformly find that murderers are not ordinary citizens, but extreme aberrants with life records of serious crime. The typical murderer has a prior adult criminal history of six years involving at least four documented major felonies -- plus uncounted juvenile felonies. He is also a substance abuser with a history of car and/or gun accidents. Indeed, the life histories of those who cause fatal car and gun accidents resemble the life histories of murderers: in each case they tend to be young males with records of felony, violence against those around them, substance abuse and dangerous accidents.
In short, quoting a recent review in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY: "fewer than 1% of all guns, and fewer than 2% even of handguns will ever be used in a violent crime" and "more people are killed in swimming pool accidents than firearms accidents." In short, blaming all gun owners for the crimes and irresponsibility of a tiny, highly aberrant minority is bigotry. In addition to being criminologically false, it is a false issue, a diversion from the true basis of anti-gun sentiment.
At this point I have to draw a fundamental distinction which is, once again, unfamiliar. That is the distinction between anti- gun and pro-control. Control implies what the great majority of Americans, including most gun owners, believe: that law abiding, responsible people have a right to possess arms to defend their families, but that society has a right to reasonably control arms -- and the issue is working out an accommodation between these two things.
But the so-called gun control movement is really a gun ban movement dominated totally by people I call anti-gun. Anti-gunners see no objective need for accommodation because they do not see self-defense as a legitimate desire. Their ultimate objective is first the banning and confiscation of all handguns and then of all guns. Given the state of public opinion there is a subjective, or current, need to soft-pedal this for the present. Thus when they say that the Brady Bill and banning so-called assault rifles (i.e. rifles and shotguns designed primarily for self-defense) are "just the first steps", they go on to say, as Sarah Brady now does, "the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes", and to advocate, as Handgun Control, Inc. now does, a nationwide permit requirement to own a gun under which only those desiring guns for sport qualify -- those desiring a gun for self-defense need not apply.
To understand the anti-gun view we must review the origin of the earliest anti-gun group. Founded as NCBH, it now calls itself the Coalition Against Gun Violence. It was and remains an outgrowth of the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church seeking to impose on American society the Board's moral position which is that armed self-defense is immoral. The Board actually teaches that it is a woman's Christian duty to submit to rape rather than do anything to imperil her rapists' lives. Let me give you the citation for that: It is an article entitled "Is the Robber My Brother" (and, no, robbery may not be resisted either) by the editor of the Board's magazine Engage/Social Action an article which appeared first there and then in a pamphlet available from the Board under the title Handguns in The United States.
Another member organization of the Coalition Against Gun Violence, the Presbyterian Church, USA advocates, federal banning and confiscation of handguns on the express ground that they are designed for self-defense. The Church's representatives emphasize that its General Assembly "has resolved, in the context of gun control, that it is against the killing of anyone, anywhere FOR ANY REASON." Among other places you will find that testimony is v. I at p. 127 of the Hearings of the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime 1986.
This epitomizes the views and goals of the anti-gun movement, including its non-religious supporters. The distinguished cultural historian Garry Wills reviles "gun fetishists", "gun nuts" as "anti-citizens", "traitors, enemies of their own patriae", who are arming "against their own neighbors." "The need that some homeowners and shopkeepers believe they have for weapons to defend themselves" represents "the worst instincts in the human character" according to the Washington Post. According to Ramsey Clark, defensive firearms ownership is barbarism, "anarchy, not order under law."
I have already quoted Sarah Brady's view that "the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes" and Handgun Control's proposal for a national licensing requirement to exclude anyone who wants a gun for self-defense. An additional "step" is to have Congress pass the law HCI and the Coalition got D.C. to enact: no one may buy any kind of handgun and, while long guns are allowed, they too must be kept unloaded and disassembled so that they may never be used for self-defense. The ultimate goal, once again, is that expressed by Harvard public health professor Deborah Prothrow-Stith: she frankly avows that she "hates guns and sees no reason why anyone should ever own one."
In the few minutes which remain to me I want to discuss what is to be about done all this. One reason gun owners are in such a terrible fix is that they are politically unsophisticated. That is implicit in the fact that they are the targets of a vast campaign of bigotry. Gun owners are not politicians. They are just ordinary people wanting to go about their business. They have been ambushed and are being subjected to a systematic campaign of hatred and lies by an elite cadre of bigots who largely control the media and have disproportionate influence throughout our society. Naturally all too many gun owners react in mindless outrage. They leap to the conclusion that disarmament of the American public is being promoted by "liberals" -- it used to be "communists" -- for some sinister, ulterior reason involving making people helpless against tyranny. Nonsense. Insofar as liberals support that -- and I must note so do many conservatives -- it is just out of hypocritical bigotry. They cannot see this because they view themselves as fighters against bigotry and so imagine that they are themselves incapable of it and of attempting to impose their morality on others through law.
And I want to briefly list other gun owner errors: First are the people who play into the media's hands by wearing camos when they make presentations against anti-gun proposals. Similar are the gun owners who take pleasure in extreme and intemperate statements -- at terrible cost to the cause in general. And then there are liars and buffoons like Linda Thompson and her "armed march on Washington." Demented is the best one can one say about an "armed march on Washington."
A particular pathology of gun owners is the idea that the bigotry will all go away if some particular lawsuit is brought or a strident manifesto screamed out. The simple fact is that the bigots are not going to go away. Gun owners are going to have to settle in to politics for the foreseeable future, smarten up, learn how to make politically sensible statements.
Most important, gun owners must learn the necessity and art of horse trading. By that I do not mean giving important things away in the absurd hope that it will satisfy the bigots and they will go away and leave us alone. I repeat, they will not go away regardless of what we do! I am not talking about compromises of principle. I am talking about things about which reasonable people can agree or disagree. For instance, raise the fee for a concealed carry license to $150.00 and the duration of the license to five years. Require that anyone who wants such a license show that they have the same legal knowledge and competence about shooting as a police officer -- but issue licenses as in Oregon and Florida to every responsible law abiding applicant.
The fact is that there are rational, non-bigoted people in the middle who can be compromised with. They cannot be convinced by the yahoo approach of "just say no to gun control." But, even as they are open to new control approaches and initiatives, they are also willing to recognize that old approaches may be unsound, or have unsound aspects, which need to be abandoned. We are in the pickle we are now in because the "just say no" attitude has allowed the bigots to paint us as mindless obstructionists who are blind to compassion and common sense. These people in the middle are open to arguments that many control proposals don't make sense in terms of crime control and to arguments based on the right and need to defend of self and property. The future of gun ownership will depend on whether we are willing and able to reach out to these middle people and convince them that the misnamed gun control movement is under the control of moralistic bigots."
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