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The gun control debate is often obscured by strong emotions and unproven assumptions. According to conventional wisdom accidents with handguns account for a significant number of deaths among children, gun owners endanger themselves more than they ward off potential criminal assailants, and there is a widespread legal consensus that the Second Amendment does not support the individual right to bear arms. All of these assumptions, and many others, say researchers Gary Kleck and Don Kates, are contradicted by the weight of criminological and legal evidence. Hoping to disentangle myth from reality, the authors summarize the results and policy implications of recent state-of-the-art research on guns and violence in accessible, nontechnical language.
Among the topics addressed are media bias in coverage of gun issues, the distorting effects that a covert prohibitionist agenda has on the debate over more moderate measures for reducing gun violence, the frequency and effectiveness of the defensive use of guns, and a close analysis of the Second Amendment.
This well-argued and scrupulously researched volume is essential for any full understanding of the complex gun issue.
Gun Accidents versus Self-Defense
How often is a small child killed in a handgun accident? From the national publicity such deaths often receive, lay readers are likely to assume them to be as frequent as they are tragic. In fact, gun accidents kill only ten to twenty children under age five each year. Tragic as each such death is, they are only about as numerous as the equally tragic deaths of children that age who are poisoned by ingesting iron supplements that look like candy and are often prescribed for mothers after birth. Indeed, handgun accidents kill only about half as many children under age five annually as does the ingestion of common household poisons (roach spray, lighter fluid, ammonia, iron supplements, ant poison, and so forth). In fact, gun accidents rarely involve preadolescents of any age. (See figures in chapter 2.)
Typical of the wild exaggeration that regularly appears is USA Today's claim that fourteen thousand fatal gun accidents occur each year; the actual number is fourteen hundred. In comparison, as many as 2.5 million victims use guns to defend against crime each year. (See discussion and evidence presented in chapter 6.) If the public is unaware of this, it is because the media do not mention the 2.5 million figure and report only a tiny proportion of such defense incidents. Nevertheless, the total number of defense uses is so large that the tiny proportion reported still constitute a goodly number. Yet consumers of the popular media are unlikely to realize how common such incidents arebecause even when reported locally, defensive gun uses somehow never manage to make the national news, unlike the far, far fewer instances of children being killed in gun accidents.
The one exception is that a defensive gun use that seems to have gone wrong can become nationwide news; for example, when a Louisiana man mistakenly killed a Japanese student who menaced him in a Halloween prank, and when a Texan who had received a concealed handgun carry license under Texas's new right to carry law killed a man who attacked him in a traffic dispute. (In fact, both shooters were cleared, the Texan because he fired in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm from his larger and younger attacker.) Those who get their information from the popular media are unlikely to realize that erroneous killings (which the Texas case was not) by civilians total only about thirty per year; even less likely is the average person to know how favorably this compares to the police who erroneously kill five to eleven times more innocent people each year.
The nonreporting of successful victim self-defense incidents lends spurious credence to another argument that dates back to early in this century. Conventional wisdom holds that guns are not useful for self-defense. Defensive gun ownership is a "dangerous self-delusion," and groups like Handgun Control, Inc., advise victims who are attacked by a rapist, robber or other felon that "the best defense against injury is to put up no defense—give them what they want or run."
This conventional wisdom persists only because the definitive contrary facts receive little or no attention in the popular media. Criminological data and studies have definitively established that, compared to victims who resisted with a gun, victims who submitted were injured about twice as often; also, of course, nonresisters were much more likely to be raped or robbed.
Nevertheless, until quite recently the sparsity of statistical information made it possible to still argue that guns are rarely used for self-defense. But a series of seminal studies by my coauthor Gary Kleck have now demonstrated beyond peradventure that handguns are actually used by victims to repel crime far more often than they are by criminals in committing crimes—as much as three times more. I shall not review the evidence here since Kleck does so in chapters 6 and 7. I raise the point only because Kleck's studies either go unreported in the nation's press or are derided. This media dubiety contrasts strikingly with a remarkable accolade accorded the Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz study on defensive gun use by the doyen of American criminologists, University of Pennsylvania Professor Marvin Wolfgang, who wrote:
I am as strong a gun control advocate as can be found among the criminologists in this country. If I [had the power] ... I would eliminate ALL guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police. I hate guns—ugly, nasty instruments designed to kill people....
Nonetheless the methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear. I cannot further debate it....
The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology. They have tried earnestly to meet all objections in advance and have done exceedingly well.
I can only speculate as to why the popular media omits any mention of this tribute even as they continue to ignore Kleck's work or treat it as doubtful. What can be said is that here again the popular media is suppressing scholarly research that contradicts conventional wisdom.
It is interesting to consider how the popular media treated two studies coming to opposite conclusions about the effects of laws passed by thirty states to allow all qualified applicants to carry concealed handguns for self-defense. Though these laws had been enacted in many more urbanized states for five or more years when it was done, the first study was limited to just five selected cities in Florida, Oregon, and Mississippi. In none of these cities had a murder been committed by a permit-holder. Yet this small, city-level study concluded that widespread carrying of concealed guns had not reduced crime and perhaps even increased gun homicides in three of the five cities whose data were examined. These conclusions are a spurious artifact of the use of city-level data and of the cities selected. Had the study looked at state-level data—even for just the three states selected —it would have found that overall homicide declined. (It may be coincidental that the study's conclusions here dovetail with the hypothesis its authors advance elsewhere that self-defense is not a personal right but rather a social evil that ought to be eliminated to the extent possible.) Yet the media gave this study extensive publicity. The New York Times actually reported it twice. Though the authors themselves qualified their results, neither their caveats nor criticisms by other scholars have received attention in popular media reports of the study.
Contrast the New York Times's total silence regarding a later study that differed from the earlier one both in its conclusions and in the extensiveness of its data. Done by University of Chicago economists, its findings were based on data from all 3,054 American counties. Perhaps more important to the Times, however, was that the data showed that liberal allowance of concealed handgun carry by thirty-one states had coincided with a reduction of thousands of murders, rapes, and other violent crimes in those states. The authors tentatively concluded that adoption of such policies by the other nineteen states would save many more lives and prevent thousands more violent crimes. Other popular media did not follow the New York Times in completely blacking out the University of Chicago study. But insofar as it was reported, the results were denigrated by falsely reporting that the study had been sponsored by the gun industry. (In turn, these falsehoods led to editorials denouncing the study as a fraud.)
Similar contrasts are endless. For instance, to their credit, the New York Daily News and several other New York City papers have noted that the New York City police, having unfettered discretion under New York law, issue concealed handgun carry licenses only to especially influential people, including Donald Trump; numerous Rockefellers and DuPonts; and a raft of politicians, millionaires, and/or celebrities. Perhaps because its own publisher was one of these licensees, the New York Times never found this story "fit to print." It is ironic (to say the very least) that in lieu of such information, the Times gives readers editorials asserting that "the urban handgun offers no benefits," inter alia, because "most civilians, whatever their income level are likely to lack the training and alertness" required to "use a gun to stop an armed criminal."
Excerpted from ARMED by Gary Kleck & Don B. Kates. Copyright © 2001 by Gary Kleck and Don B. Kates. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|2||Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence, or Pandemic of Propaganda?||31|
|3||"Poisoning the Well" for Gun Control||107|
|4||Absolutist Politics in a Moderate Package: Prohibitionist Intentions of the Gun Control Movement||129|
|5||Modes of News Media Distortion of Gun Issues||173|
|6||The Frequency of Defensive Gun Use: Evidence and Disinformation||213|
|7||The Nature and Effectiveness of Owning, Carrying, and Using Guns for Self-Protection||285|
|8||The Second Amendment: A Right to Personal Self-Protection||343|
Posted November 3, 2001
Since 1979, I've been very acquainted with Mr. Kates and his publications in periodicals and his first book 'Restricting Handguns - The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out' (a compilation of works by liberal experts in various fields). He, like the first atomic bomb, came onto the scene over the gun control/rights debate - exploding the myth that all liberals, and some conservatives, are for gun control. Kates (you can read a two-part article in the Nov/Dec issue of 'Handguns' magazine), a Yale Law grad, is an inciteful and resourceful debater who makes you think. He leaves no stone unturned. I've used his material for many letters I've submitted for editorials nation-wide. I've even had the privilege of corresponding with some years ago. You won't be disappointed
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