Straight Shooter

With a hat tip to our pal The Stiletto, we offer an article by the independently minded journalist John Stossel (who is currently a guest speaker, by the way, at this conference on the excesses of global warmism). In this essay Stossel makes the case that restrictive gun laws unfairly deprive us of the ability to defend oursleves, and make us vulnerable to violence such as the Virginia Tech and NIU massacres.

We read:

[H]ow many shootings at schools or malls will it take before we understand that people who intend to kill are not deterred by gun laws? Last I checked, murder is against the law everywhere. No one intent on murder will be stopped by the prospect of committing a lesser crime like illegal possession of a firearm. The intellectuals and politicians who make pious declarations about controlling guns should explain how their gunless utopia is to be realized.

While they search for — excuse me — their magic bullet, innocent people are dying defenseless.

That’s because laws that make it difficult or impossible to carry a concealed handgun do deter one group of people: law-abiding citizens who might have used a gun to stop crime. Gun laws are laws against self-defense.

Criminals have the initiative. They choose the time, place and manner of their crimes, and they tend to make choices that maximize their own, not their victims’, success. So criminals don’t attack people they know are armed, and anyone thinking of committing mass murder is likely to be attracted to a gun-free zone, such as schools and malls.

Government may promise to protect us from criminals, but it cannot deliver on that promise. This was neatly summed up in book title a few years ago: “Dial 911 and Die.” If you are the target of a crime, only one other person besides the criminal is sure to be on the scene: you. There is no good substitute for self-responsibility.

I quite agree. Read the full essay here.

I realize, of course, that this is an issue that gets people awfully riled up, and that some of our readers may vehemently reject this view. Fire away.

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5 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    There are two principal weaknesses in this argument.

    The first is that it sets up a straw man. Few people advocate a “gunless utopia.” Most people who advocate gun control are looking for nothing more than making sure that people who buy guns are registered in a database, so felons and the mentally incapacitated are precluded from owning weaponry. Some gun control advocates would like to have further restrictions on some kinds of automatic weaponry, or ban them entirely. If there are any leading “politicians and intellectuals” who are calling for a complete ban on owning weapons, I’m unaware of them. In my view, these restrictions are hardly onerous – if we require people to register when they buy cars, they certainly ought to register when they buy lethal weapons. The largest issue now is whether people who buy guns at gun shows should be required to register in the same way as someone buying a gun at Wal-Mart. It’s an egregious loophole which could easily be closed. However, the NRA and its amen chorus will treat any kind of reasonable regulation of gun ownership as a fight against “intellectuals and politicians” who want to take everyone’s gun away.

    The other problem is that the “let’s arm everyone to the teeth” meme doesn’t work in the real world. For starters, there is a correlation between the number of guns around and the number of people who are killed or injured either intentionally or unintentionally. In addition to loaded guns going off by accident, there are instances when having a gun around results in a crime of passion which might be less lethal if the parties had to rely on their fists. But more importantly: what does this guy want? Should the other students at Columbine or Virginia Tech come to class with concealed weapons? These are black swan events – to suggest that they can somehow be stopped if we all carried weapons all of the time is risible.

    Posted March 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  2. Eric says

    Then, mr. one eyed man, every single gun control organization should disband, as everyone who buys a gun is already in a database. Usually more than one.

    Since the gun control organizations have not, in fact, disbanded, I suspect that they have something more onerous in mind.

    Posted March 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    Time does not permit me, at the moment, to respond at length, but briefly:

    I have no problem with registering firearms, but you should not imagine that this is as far as gun restriction goes. For example, the City of New York has made it excruciatingly difficult for me even to legally possess a handgun inside my own home for self-defense; for me to obtain a carry permit would be all but impossible. And of course you don’t “preclude” felons from owning guns in this way; you simply preclude them from owning them legally. But we’re talking about felons here, after all, so we already know how important that distinction will be to them.

    And yes, it is reasonable to imagine that if other students had had concealed weapons at Virginia Tech, the gunman would have been brought down at once. As was remarked in an article linked to from Stossel’s:

    …the 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School was stopped when a student retrieved a gun from his car and confronted the shooter. Likewise, Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school’s vice principal took a .45 from his truck and ran to the scene. In February’s Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun. …

    Police can’t be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it’s usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they’re armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.

    The swans aren’t as black as all that.

    Excessively restrictive gun laws, by disarming the law-abiding citizenry, explicitly give the advantage to armed criminals.

    Posted March 3, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    Eric: it is legal for unlicensed gun dealers to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting background checks. The law which closed this loophole was allowed to expire a year or so ago.

    Mac: perhaps NYC has laws which are too restrictive — I certainly don’t have a problem with law-abiders owning guns — but outside of New York and Washington, the laws are much less restrictive. Living in the West, I can tell you that owning a gun is a big part of the culture here, and restrictions on ownership are minimal or non-existent.

    My point re Virginia Tech is not that it might have been prevented if there was someone in the classroom with a gun — rather, it is that if you open up the floodgates, the number of times where there is not a nutjob on the loose and someone gets killed or injured (either intentionally or, more likely, unintentionally) would presumably far outweigh the number of lives saved in these (extremely rare) events. I’m sure you remember when two nutjobs killed people randomly in Washington a few years ago — even if you armed the entire citizenry, I’m not sure how you prevent people from being picked off when they’re filling their cars up with gas.

    Posted March 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Well, Peter, if some sort of gun registration is all you are arguing for, then perhaps we are in broad agreement.

    As for your third paragraph I think it is reasonable to imagine that there would be a great many incidents of violence (muggings, rapes, armed robbery, and other crimes that are anything but rare) that might never have happened if the perpetrator had had reason to imagine that his victims might themselves have been armed.

    Posted March 3, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink