Read an Excerpt
After the Newtown massacre in December 2012 it quickly became obvious that gun control was again going to take over the national dialogue. The president, who had barely used the word gun over his first four years in office, was about to rearrange his second-term agenda. Gun control would now be right near the top of the priority list.
Sensing a once-in-a-generation opportunity, controllist politicians and groups began to pounce. News programs devoted full hours to the issue. Opinion hosts like Piers Morgan, sensing an issue to make their mark with, began virtual crusades, discussing the topic nightly. Hollywood celebrities, brought together by the progressive group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “demanded a plan” to end gun violence via YouTube videos and television commercials. This, of course, despite that fact that many of those who appeared in the videos had made their careers—and their millions—depicting intense gun violence in movies.
It was during this time that I realized the need for this part of the book, something that would answer all the lies about guns that are repeated again and again and often go uncontested. But instead of making up arguments—which would inevitably result in critics saying that no one really makes those claims, or that I misrepresented them—I wanted to use actual quotes. So we started a little project. Each night my staff and I watched countless hours of cable news and read hundreds of newspaper columns and articles. We listened for the quotes about guns and the Second Amendment that seemed to come up most often, the stuff that is so pervasive that it’s barely even questioned anymore.
It wasn’t difficult. Before long we had enough for not only one book, but several of them. We whittled the quotes down to those that seemed to be repeated the most often—and then we sat down with a team of economists, criminologists, and other gun experts and answered each of them with the truth.
“Leaders in Washington from both parties and groups like the NRA all say that now is not the time to talk about how gun safety laws can save lives in America. I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws. The time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died today.”
—REPRESENTATIVE CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D-NY), December 14, 2012
“If there’s one thing about the gun debate that everyone seems to agree on, it’s that we’re going to have a national conversation on the subject. Great news!”
—CINDY HANDLER (Huffington Post columnist), January 11, 2013
Actually, we’ve had a national conversation about guns for the last two centuries; you just don’t like the way it turned out. You may not have noticed, but the so-called gun debate was settled quite a while ago.
“[My bill] will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession, not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums, or strips of more than ten bullets. So there will be a bill. We’ve been working on it now for a year . . . . It’ll be ready on the first day.”
—SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), December 16, 2012
Hang on, you’ve been “working” on this bill for a year? Was it just sitting in a desk drawer waiting for a terrible massacre that you could leverage for political expedience?
Wait—don’t answer that.
“[T]he point about guns is that they are so much more lethal than anything else you have around. I mean, that is why the American military arms its troops not with knives, but with automatic weapons.”
—NICHOLAS KRISTOF (New York Times columnist), January 8, 2013
“When [a .223-caliber round] hits a human body, the effects are devastating.”
—GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, January 8, 2013
I know this might be breaking news to Nicholas Kristof, but guns being “more lethal than anything else you have around” is sort of the whole point. The issue should not really be the lethality of the gun, but the psychology of the person holding it. If we are teaching people how to respect their weapons and use them safely, then the times when they’re “lethal” are the times when we want them to be.
Outside of hunting and sport shooting, guns serve as “equalizers.” With a gun, even an elderly grandmother might well be able to fend off an attacker. Violent criminals are, after all, overwhelmingly young, strong males. To them, anything—from a knife to their bare hand—could easily serve as lethal weapons.
And it is not just Grandma. The equalizer argument applies to most women, to older men, and especially to the disabled—a group that is a particular target for robberies. Guns provide the only effective way for them to defend themselves.
The evidence—and there is plenty of it—points to the exact opposite of what Kristof claims: cutting access to guns mainly disarms law-abiding citizens, making criminals’ lives that much easier. Guns allow potential victims to defend themselves when the police aren’t there.
Besides, guns may be the most lethal weapon around that’s easily accessible, but if we’re just talking about overall ability to kill a lot of people, it’s hard not to include explosives, which are used by the military and mass killers alike. The first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993, was a bombing. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 killed 168 people and was caused by bombs created from such easily available items as fertilizer (ammonium nitrate), a common cleaning solvent (liquid nitromethane), and diesel fuel. And the worst school massacre in U.S. history, in which thirty-eight people were killed, occurred in 1927 and was carried out with a bomb.
“No one is saying that people’s guns should be taken away, or that taking the Second Amendment rights away. No one is saying that [is the answer] . . . ”
—DON LEMON (CNN anchor), July 22, 2012
“Nobody questions the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.”
—MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City), December 16, 2012
“Guys, gals, now hear this: No one wants to take away your hunting rifles. No one wants to take away your shotguns. No one wants to take away your revolvers, and no one wants to take away your automatic pistols, as long as said pistols hold no more than ten rounds.”
—STEPHEN KING, Guns
“I don’t want to change the Second Amendment. I don’t want to change an American’s right to bear an arm in their home to defend people. I want to get rid of these killing machine assault weapons off the street.”
—PIERS MORGAN, January 7, 2013
“ ‘Gun grabber’ is a mythical boogeyman. No serious person, including Obama, is even proposing taking away owned guns. #StopFearmongering.”
—TOURÉ, February 16, 2013 (via Twitter)
Anyone who’s closely watching the bullying from the controllist crowd, and knows their history, has good reason to be concerned. The environment that’s been created is eerily similar to what nations like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada experienced just before introducing severe private gun ownership restrictions or banning them altogether.
Here in the United States, the Second Amendment has seemingly gone from being a God-given natural right to a privilege that must be defended. Yet the moment anyone dares voice those concerns they are usually met with mockery and dismissed as a bloodthirsty, paranoid freak who is bitterly clinging to their guns even as the mainstream of society passes them by.
Gun rights advocates are thought by the elite controllists to be creatures with the intelligence of a Neanderthal, stubbornly unwilling to accept “commonsense” gun control measures that would allegedly save the lives of countless American children. The mere mention of a “slippery slope,” with the Second Amendment itself being the real target, is brushed off as laughably preposterous conspiracy theory.
The truth—which, as you’ll soon see, is not a conspiracy or a theory—is that there are many controllists who want nothing more than to ban guns. They admire Australia and the United Kingdom and Japan and believe that the “civilized” nations of the world have evolved and left America behind. Those countries are the grown-ups while we Americans are the toddlers throwing temper tantrums in a corner.
But controllists have a major problem: the Bill of Rights. Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms—and lots of people want to keep it that way.
According to a December 2012 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Americans oppose a ban on the possession of handguns. So that leaves controllists in a bind: They believe that guns have no place among civilians, but they can’t really say that. So they carefully parse their language. Instead of talking about handgun bans they focus on “military-style” assault weapons or “high-capacity” magazines or laws that make it more difficult to purchase a weapon or ammunition.
But what do you think happens once they get these initial laws passed—do they just stop? Do they pat themselves on the back for getting clips limited to ten bullets, or do they start a new push for eight or five? Do they celebrate getting the sale of new semi-automatics banned, or do they now start to go after all of the ones currently in circulation? That question can easily be answered for anyone willing to listen to what the controllists actually say.
Last we left Senator Dianne Feinstein—the author of the 1994 and 2013 federal assault weapon bans—she was explaining to 60 Minutes in 1995 that she would’ve liked to have gotten rid of all so-called assault weapons (not just the specific guns included in the ban), but she just couldn’t get it through that pesky Congress:
If I could’ve gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them—Mr. and Mrs. America turn ’em all in—I would have done it.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have also given strong assurances about their commitment to the Second Amendment, but then they put Attorney General Eric Holder in charge of crafting Obama’s executive orders on gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Why is that an issue? Because you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more anti-gun (except, of course, when it comes to handing them to Mexican drug cartel members) than Holder.
In a 1995 talk before the Woman’s National Democratic Club, Holder said that he hoped we could one day make gun owners feel as ostracized as the smokers who “cower” outside of buildings:
What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that’s not cool, that it’s not acceptable, it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we’ve changed our attitudes about cigarettes. You know, when I was growing up, people smoked all the time. Both my parents did. But over time, we changed the way that people thought about smoking, so now we have people who cower outside of buildings and kind of smoke in private and don’t want to admit it.
And later, in the same speech: “We have to be repetitive about this. We need to do this every day of the week, and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.” (emphasis added)
Eric Holder may have been smart enough to not use the word ban, but others haven’t been so careful.
Remember the quote at the beginning of this section where CNN anchor Don Lemon claimed that “no one is saying” we should take people’s guns away? Well, just five months later, he was contradicted by someone he knows very well: Don Lemon.
“We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets,” Lemon said. “They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt elementary school children.”
So we should get rid of guns and bullets but no one is saying we should take people’s guns away? Same guy. Same year. Incredible.
In case Don Lemon isn’t impressed by his own inconsistency, here are a few more concrete examples of people openly calling for gun bans:
How can we possibly have assault weapons? And frankly, why do we need guns? We don’t need guns. We have 10,000 murders a year.
—BUZZ BISSINGER, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and Daily Beast columnist
But the logic is faulty, and a close look at it leads to the conclusion that the United States should ban private gun ownership entirely, or almost entirely.
—JEFF MCMAHAN, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, writing in the New York Times
And this banning mind-set isn’t just a reaction to Newtown; it’s been around for a while. The editors of the Los Angeles Times, in an editorial from 1993 titled “Taming the Monster: Get Rid of the Guns,” wrote:
No guns, period, except for those held by law enforcement officials and a few others . . . . Why should America adopt a policy of near-zero tolerance for private gun ownership? Because it’s the only alternative to the present insanity. Without both strict limits on access to new weapons and aggressive efforts to reduce the supply of existing weapons, no one can be safer.
Six years later the Washington Post got into the act. “No presidential candidate,” the paper editorialized, “has yet come out for the most effective proposal to check the terror of gunfire: a ban on the general sale, manufacture and ownership of handguns as well as assault-style weapons.”
In other words, the “most effective” plan, according to these editors, is a ban of all handguns and assault weapons. A more recent editorial in the Economist seems to agree:
I personally dislike guns. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake. But a majority of Americans disagree with me, some of them very strongly. And at a certain point, when very large majorities disagree with you, a bit of deference is in order.
. . . I am pretty sure that the sort of gun control that would work—banning all guns—is not going to happen.
Is it possible these opinions don’t count because, like corporations, progressives don’t consider editorial boards to be “people”?
Back in the present day, Piers Morgan, who claims with a straight face, “I totally respect and admire the Constitution and the Second Amendment and an American’s right to defend themselves at home,” has also gotten in on the act. This is from his January 10, 2013, show:
PIERS MORGAN: You’ve got to make a stand somewhere. You have to start somewhere. The logical place to start, given that automatic weapons are banned, is you go to the next level down, semiautomatic weapons. You know, in an ideal world, I’d have all guns gone, as we have in Britain. But this is not my country. And I respect the fact that most Americans wouldn’t wear that kind of argument.
Here’s a pro tip, Piers, free of charge: when attempting to convince Americans how much you “respect” the Second Amendment, try not to reveal how you would really like to ban all guns. And if you’re going to make fun of the slippery slope argument, as you’ve done so often on your show, maybe try not to use expressions like “You have to start somewhere.”
It’s important for people to understand where most of these controllists are really coming from. Piers Morgan believes that all guns should be banned. Not just assault weapons or large capacity magazines, but “all guns gone.” You must listen to everything else he says with that basic framework in mind.
Two days earlier, Morgan had this exchange on his show with Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:
KRISTOF: So if the only thing that legislators do is reinstitute the assault weapons ban and the high magazine, that will be great. That will be a step forward.
MORGAN: But it won’t be enough.
KRISTOF: But it won’t be nearly enough . . . . We have to make a move on handguns as well.
Hey, Touré, do you still think that “no serious person” proposes to take guns away? Still think we should “#StopFearmongering”?
In case you have not heard, Piers Morgan is British. He has seen firsthand how they’ve successfully been able to change public perception, using one incident at a time to push further and further down the slippery slope that allegedly does not exist. Here’s a brief summary of how their gun ban came to be; see if you recognize any similarities to the American debate:
1689: King William of Orange guarantees his subjects (except Catholics) the right to bear arms for self-defense in a new Bill of Rights.
1819: In response to civil unrest, a temporary Seizure of Arms Act is passed; it allows constables to search for, and confiscate, arms from people who are “dangerous to the public peace.” This expired after two years.
1870: A license is needed only if you want to carry a firearm outside of your home.
1903: The Pistols Act is introduced and seems to be full of common sense. No guns for drunks or the mentally insane, and licenses are required for handgun purchases.
1920: The Firearms Act ushers in the first registration system and gives police the power to deny a license to anyone “unfitted to be trusted with a firearm.” According to historian Clayton Cramer, this is the first true pivot point for the United Kingdom, as “the ownership of firearms ceased to be a right of Englishmen, and instead became a privilege.”
1937: An update to the Firearm Act is passed that raises the minimum age to buy a gun, gives police more power to regulate licenses, and bans most fully automatic weapons. The home secretary also rules that self-defense is no longer a valid reason to be granted a gun certificate.
1967: The Criminal Justice Act expands licensing to shotguns.
1968: Existing gun laws are placed into a single statute. Applicants have to show good reason for carrying ammunition and guns. The Home Office is also given the power to set fees for shotgun licenses.
1988: After the Hungerford Massacre, in which a crazy person uses two semi-automatic rifles to kill fifteen people, an amendment to the Firearms Act is passed. According to the BBC, this amendment “banned semi-automatic and pump-action rifles; weapons which fire explosive ammunition; short shotguns with magazines; and elevated pump-action and self-loading rifles. Registration was also made mandatory for shotguns, which were required to be kept in secure storage.”
1997: After the Dunblane massacre results in the deaths of sixteen children and a teacher (the killer uses two pistols and two revolvers), another Firearms Act amendment is passed, this one essentially banning all handguns.
2006: After a series of gun-related homicides get national attention, the Violent Crime Reduction Act is passed, making it a crime to make or sell imitation guns and further restricting the use of “air weapons.”
If that does not prove how the slippery slope—from Bill of Rights to total ban actually works—then I don’t know what does. So, you’ll have to excuse us, Piers, when we get a little dodgy about your assault weapon ban proposal or when CNN anchors and major newspaper columnists advocate for “zero tolerance” on private gun ownership.
We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.
“Is there an argument for the Second Amendment to be repealed and to be clarified and be redrafted?”
—PIERS MORGAN, December 18, 2012
I know that Piers isn’t an American citizen, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t quite understand how this works in the United States.
Yes, Piers, the Second Amendment could be repealed, clarified, or redrafted. And you could lead all of cable news in ratings. Both of those things are technically possible—but neither will ever happen.
The Constitution is, of course, not immutable. When the American people wish to change the Constitution, they can do so through the amendment process detailed in Article V. In fact, the people themselves (acting through their state legislatures) can use Article V to call a convention to propose a particular amendment, or they can call a convention to propose an entirely new constitution.
Yet, for well over two centuries, through wars and peace, mob violence, gang violence, and unthinkable public massacres, no serious attempt has ever been made to repeal or redraft the Second Amendment. If one had been, it’s doubtful that even a single state would’ve ratified the proposal. Even today, with what the media alleges is a completely changed national attitude toward guns, it is very likely that a proposal to repeal the Second Amendment would be ratified by a grand total of zero states.
However, plenty of states have gone the other way, amending their state constitutions toward a clearer understanding of the right to keep and bear arms being an individual right. The most recent example is Louisiana, where nearly 73 percent of voters in 2012 approved an amendment to the state constitution making it much more difficult for gun control legislation to pass.
The old Louisiana constitution read:
The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.
But this was replaced with far stronger wording:
The right of each citizen to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for defense of life and liberty, and for all other legitimate purposes is fundamental and shall not be denied or infringed, and any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.
So, yes, Piers—we could definitely clarify all of this for you—but probably not in the direction you think.
“Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Second Amendment, said that it should be revisited every 20 years to see if it is still appropriate.”
—CHRISTOPHER KENNEDY LAWFORD, January 7, 2013
A small point of clarification for Mr. Lawford: Thomas Jefferson didn’t write the Second Amendment. In fact, he was not even in the country at the time it was created; he was the United States minister plenipotentiary to France. It was James Madison who took the numerous suggestions for the language of the Second Amendment and synthesized them into a proposal that Congress subsequently debated, amended, and sent to the states for ratification.
But let’s excuse for a second the fact that JFK’s nephew—a man who is a self-described “author, activist and actor” and who routinely puts himself on television to discuss gun control—does not even know who actually wrote the Second Amendment. He’s still wrong. Jefferson never said that the Second Amendment in particular ought to be reexamined every twenty years. What he did say one time in a letter to Madison—and what I assume Lawford was referring to—was that all laws, including the U.S. Constitution, ought to automatically expire after twenty years:
On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished them, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.
—LETTER FROM THOMAS JEFFERSON, in Paris, to James Madison, September 6, 1789
While this letter makes Jefferson sound as though he could be a member of the Center for American Progress, there’s actually an important lesson here: Jefferson lost. His views were in the extreme minority. Most Americans, including James Madison, hoped that the new Constitution of 1787 would provide long-term stability to the United States.
And that’s exactly what has happened.
Since the Constitution is not a “living” document, it has guaranteed generations of Americans that the bedrock principles of freedom will endure.
But Lawford is wrong for another reason as well. By focusing on this one letter, he’s missing a much larger point: even if laws were reviewed, Jefferson would have always insisted that any new constitution respect the natural rights of mankind. As he affirmed in his writings, including the Declaration of Independence, the essential purpose of government is to protect our God-given rights.
Whether a law was to expire in ten years, twenty years, or one hundred years is irrelevant—Jefferson would always be against any effort to suppress our inalienable rights. Like the other Founders, Jefferson believed there were many different ways in which a government could be structured, but that every legitimate government must protect—and never violate—the natural rights of mankind.
Finally, if Lawford is really so supportive of Jefferson’s idea, then he also must be willing to throw out every major current gun control law that is more than twenty years old. That would wipe out the vast majority of federal gun control laws—including the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968. Most state gun control laws would disappear as well. The result? The United States of 2013 would look a lot like the United States of 1788—a nation with no constitutional guarantee about the right to bear arms, but also a nation with a lot of guns and almost no laws restricting them.
“You have by far the worst rate of gun murder and gun crime of any of the civilized countries of this world . . . . ”
—PIERS MORGAN, December 18, 2012
This all sounds pretty plausible—which is probably why this line is repeated so often. Yet things are a lot more complicated than they seem.
It’s not clear exactly what countries Morgan has picked when he says other “civilized” countries, but it is possible to generate almost any kind of result by picking the “right” set of countries.
First, let’s just be clear that lots of nations, including “civilized” ones, suffer from higher overall murder and gun murder rates than America. In 2011, the U.S. murder rate was 4.7 per 100,000 people and the gun murder rate was 3.2. Much of Eastern Europe, most of Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, all but one South American nation, and all of Central America and Mexico suffer from higher murder rates than we do. For example, despite very strict gun control, homicide rates in Russia and Brazil have averaged about four to five times higher than ours over the last decade. As the Washington Post reported:
The dubious distinction of having the most gun violence goes to Honduras, at 68.43 homicides by firearm per 100,000 people, even though it only has 6.2 firearms per 100 people. Other parts of South America and South Africa also rank highly, while the United States is somewhere near the mid-range.
In fact, if you look across all nations and not just a select few, what you find is that those with the strictest gun control laws also tend to have the highest murder rates. Gun control advocates prefer to use the very questionable data from the pro-gun control “Small Arms Survey” to make their case—but even that data proves that higher rates of gun ownership correlate with fewer deaths. (See charts.)