Monday, April 23, 2007


Do We Need More Guns?

My friend M recently sent me an article in defense of handguns. The writer of the article argued that the recent tragedy at Virginia Technical Institute would have been averted if the shooter had known or believed that there were individuals in the classrooms that were armed with loaded handguns. The killer would have been more cautious in choosing his victims; in addtion, some of the intended victims could have taken him out if they had with them loaded hand guns.

The writer of the article went on to cite some statistics about the rate of homicides due to gun shot in States that allowed residents to carry concealed weapons and the similar rate in States that did not allow concealed weapons. The writer did not mention specific States nor specific homicide rates. It's possible that the statement has little basis in fact.

Even conceding the correctness of the quoted statistic, it is not convincing proof of the writer's assertion, that if most of the public was armed with concealed weapons then a killer would be more careful and less likely to undertake a killing rampage. First, the writer may have the cause and effect relation reversed. Perhaps in a State that for other reasons has a low homicide rate due to gun shot the public does not see the need for strict regulation of guns and residents are allowed to carry concealed weapons. In words of few syllables, low homicide rate causes relaxed gun regulation, not relaxed gun regulation prevents some homicides.

Second, I can imagine that in places were the rate of gun-related murder is high, if public policy were to allow or even encourage more people to carry concealed weapons there would be more, not fewer homicides.

Of course, my friend M and I are simply preaching to our own choirs. His friends and allies favor a wide use of concealable weapons. They really believe that they can defend themselves from some lunatic who uses an automatic assault weapon. They believe that their one bullet can have a more immediate effect on stopping him than his ten bullets have on themselves. To make their case even remotely logical they must postulate that the deragned killer is armed with the same kind of weapon that they carry in their pockets. My friends and allies believe that the ordinary citizen is not going to be as adept at using his or her weapon (i.e., shooting straight and quickly) as a determined assassin. I believe that safety is better served by strictly limiting the kind and number of weapons in the popoulation. Criminals should not be able to get their hands on automatic weapons. Even farmers and hunters, two groups in our population who resist strict controls on the ownership of weapons, do not need automatic weapons to shoot hawks and deer.

What is to be done? Existing laws can be enforced better. Available information can be shared more widely among different law enforcement agencies. Gun manufacturers can be made to provide information about dealers who seem to be the suppliers of guns that find their way into the hands of criminals. More importantly we can have a reasonable discussion about guns and how to keep criminals and homicidal lunatics from getting their hands on the most dangerous kinds of guns. We should also have a reasoned discussion of the Second Amendment. It does not grant an absolute right, just as the First Amendment does not grant a mischief maker the right to cry "fire" in a crowded theater.
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