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Recommended Reading

Opinion Editorial
January 11, 2000

By Linda Gorman

In a January 4th letter-to-the editor of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Mr. Joseph E. Cordova of Littleton wrote “I am confused as to why people are so devoted to keeping a constitutional right that allows us to own a tool that when used correctly either destroys or damages lifeI honestly believe that if James Madison and his colleagues were alive to see what the musket has evolved into today and the horrific events that firearms have caused, they would not be offended if we were to change their original thoughts.”[1]

What Mr. Madison would see is 273 million Americans using guns to safely protect themselves and their loved ones from robbery, assault, rape, and murder approximately 2.5 million times every year. With 50% of all households owning one or more of the country’s estimated 200 million guns, just 981 people, 142 of them under the age of 14, died in gun accidents in 1997.[2] On an annual basis, there are more accidental deaths from falls, drowning, and bicycle riding.[3]

Mr. Cordova’s cavalier surrender of his 2nd Amendment rights also poses a moral question. As Jeffrey R. Snyder pointed out in the Fall 1993 issue of The Public Interest,[4] ruling out firearms means that Mr. Cordova rules out the most effective form of fighting back when someone else forcibly threatens his life or property. If he is unwilling to accept the risk of protecting his own life with a firearm, how can he demand that other people risk their lives to protect him?

United States courts have repeatedly ruled that he cannot. The police do not have to protect any individual, and government officials have repeatedly demonstrated that they feel no obligation to do so. Consider the Los Angeles riots. Police were withdrawn at the beginning. Those who suddenly needed guns for self-defense could not buy them because California had a 15-day waiting period. Local authorities then attacked those who did have guns by banning ammunition sales. At the first hint of real trouble, the civil authorities delivered the residents of the city to the tender mercies of gun toting criminals.

Governments all over the world behave like this. When people fail to obey the laws they pass, governments respond by passing more. Since government never knows when to quit and gun control never works, “reasonable” gun control measures inevitably end up prohibiting self-defense by the law-abiding and promoting criminal activity. In the 1999 Hamline Law Review,[5] Joseph Olson and David Kopel chronicle England’s slide down this slippery slope of gun control and describe its corrosive effect on civil liberties.

In 1903, Parliament voted to forbid pistol sales to minors and felons. Sales were allowed only to those with gun licenses, which were easy to get. In 1920, despite the fact that people with firearms posed no particular danger, the government expanded controls by prohibiting the ownership of rifles or pistols without “good reason.” In 1936, short-barreled shotguns and fully automatic firearms were outlawed.

In 1940, the British government found itself short of arms for island defense and ran ads in American newspapers begging people to “Send a Gun to Defend a British Home. Not having learned its lesson, it searched soldiers returning home from World War II, confiscating and destroying any weapons found.

In 1946, British bureaucrats announced that self-defense was no longer an acceptable reason to apply for a gun license. All offensive weapons were banned in 1953, and people carrying knives were subject to prosecution unless they could provide a reasonable excuse for having one. Confiscation of handguns, made possible by the records generated by licensing requirements, began in 1997.

With guns outlawed and crime rates far in excess of those in the United States, Britons have attempted to switch to other forms of self-defense. Affronted, the government has outlawed those as well. Chemical-defense weapons like Mace, electric stun guns, pit bulls, penknives, swordsticks, and blowpipes are all illegal, as are imitation guns. One elderly lady was arrested for trying to frighten off a gang of thugs by firing a blank from her imitation firearm.

Safe storage requirements have also spawned a number of abuses. Introduced in the 1930s as a “reasonable measure”, authorities now use them to prevent legal ownership. Some districts require that gun safes withstand a half-hour attack by a burglar with safe-cracking tools. Unannounced, warrantless, home searches are used to ensure compliance.

In sum, surrendering your right to keep and bear arms means putting your life, and the lives of your loved ones, in the hands of government officials who have no obligation to protect you, and who may lack both the desire and the ability to do so. Think about that the next time someone claims that gun control will make you safer.

[1] Joseph E. Cordova. 4 January 2000. Letter-to-the-Editor, The Denver Rocky Mountain News, p. 31A.

[2] Gun ownership figures in Paul H. Blackman. March 1994. The Federal Factoid Factory on Firearms and Violence: A Review of CDC Research and Politics. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Chicago, Illinois. Posted on the web at http://www.saf.org/journal/7_factoid.html. Defensive use statistic from Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz. Fall 1995. “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86(1): 150-187. Body of paper available at http://www.guncite.com/gcdgklec.html. Figures on accidental deaths from Donna L. Hoyerrt, Kenneth D. Kochanek, and Sherry L. Murphy. 30 June 1999. “Deaths: Final Data for 1997,” National Vital Statistics Reports, 47,19, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Table 16.

[3] Data from bicycle accidents from “A Case-Control Study of the Effectiveness of Bicycle Safety Helmets. RS Thompson, FP Rivara, and DC Thompson, N Engl J Med 1989 May 25;320(21):1361-7, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=2716781&dopt=Abstract. Data on drowning from the National Safety Council, Injury Facts “Deaths Due to Unintentional Public Injuries, 1998. http:/www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/99116.htm. Web pages cited as of 7 January 2000.

[4] Jeffrey R. Snyder. Fall 1993. “A Nation of Cowards,” The Public Interest, 113, pp. 40-55.<

[5] Joseph E. Loson and David B. Kopel. 1999. “All the Way Down the Slippery Slope: Gun Prohibition in England and some Lessons for Civil Liberties in America,” Hamline Law Review, 22. 399-465. Posted on the web at http://www.2ndlawlib.org/journals/okslip.html.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

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