"Even though the most common reason for owning a handgun is for household self-defense, rejecting handgun ownership makes sense from a safety perspective…if unilateral disarmament is rational, why do people not give up their guns voluntarily…?" [emphasis ours]
Criminologist Franklin E. Zimring, writing in
"Gun Control", U.S. Dept of Justice,
Crime File Study Guide, 1985
At the heart of their philosophy, the anti-self-defense lobby would have us buy the premise that all violence is morally repugnant - even the violence of self-defense. And in order to validate the superiority of their philosophy, they need to prove that civilian disarmament benefits us - our husbands, our wives, and our children. That requires them to accept only - and uncritically - the biased, statistically-rigged "research" of junk-scientists sharing the same political agenda.
In an attempt to convince us that our firearms aren't worth the danger they pose, they resort to every trick in the book. They argue that the only legitimate role of firearms is for "sporting" purposes. And they try to paint defensive gun use as a "very rare event", as David Hemenway did in the Summer 1997 issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Hemenway is a professor of Health Policy at Harvard's School of Public Health. Attempting to discredit 15 existing surveys which showed defensive gun use to be commonplace in America, Hemenway declared:
"Using a gun in self-defense, like having contact with an alien, is an interesting, potentially exciting event…Many [survey] respondents who claim to have had contact with alien life forms are probably not deliberately lying, but are putting an interesting interpretation on circumstances which were not clear cut. Similarly, many respondents who claim to have used a gun successfully…may be unconsciously improving on the truth…"
In science, when one set of findings for a particular phenomenon is radically different from all the others, it's generally a good tip-off that the out-of-whack finding is wrong. But Hemenway defended the single survey which was way out of line with all the others - the only survey that indicated defensive gun use was rare in the U.S. - the annual National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Knowledge by the survey's respondents that the federal government was monitoring their answers had to profoundly influence the reliability of the data so obtained.
In their attempts to discourage self-defense with a gun, it is no wonder that firearm-prohibitionists eagerly embrace and widely publicize advice like that given by former San Jose Police Department Chief Joseph McNamara, in 1986:
"We urge citizens not to resist armed robbery…[In my experience] victims ended up dead because they produced their own handguns and escalated the violence. Very rarely have I seen cases in which the handgun was used to ward off a criminal."
But if, when faced with the prospect of violent criminal attack, you follow the advice of the firearm-prohibitionists, will it save your hide? Or is following their advice more likely to cost you your life, or the lives of your loved ones, instead? Are you really better off doing nothing? Or is using a weapon the smarter thing to do? And, if so, what weapon works best?
McNamara's caveat was dubbed "the Police Chief's Fallacy" by criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck, professor at Florida State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. In refuting it, Kleck pointed out that some who subscribe to it - like McNamara - do so out of sheer political considerations, in order to advance firearm-prohibition.
Those with more honest motives, however, do so because they generally see only the worst-case scenarios - the failures - not the successful "saves" by average citizens against criminals, which, according to Kleck, outnumber the failures "by a wide margin". In short, the cases cited by McNamara are not a representative sample of self-defense incidents.
Kleck further noted that one of the reasons police don't see the successful outcomes is that most crimes are not reported. "Neither the defender/victim nor the criminal ordinarily has much incentive to report this sort of event…and either or both often have strong reasons not to do so [emphasis in original]." And even if the incident is reported, Kleck added, often the use of a gun is neither mentioned by the victim, nor recorded by the police.
Kleck cautioned that "advising [would-be] victims not to use guns to resist criminal attempts seems imprudent at best, dangerous at worst." That conclusion is based on Kleck's own research on defensive gun use, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun", published in the Fall 1995 issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology with colleague Dr. Marc Gertz.
The Kleck/Gertz survey was the first one ever devoted specifically to the issue of armed resistance. "Carefully designed to correct all of the known correctable or avoidable flaws of previous surveys", and drawing on input from "North America's most experienced experts on gun-related surveys", Kleck and Gertz arrived at a "state-of-the-art survey instrument" to establish the frequency of defensive gun use in America.
Contrary to the charges of David Hemenway and other politically-motivated critics, Kleck and Gertz found that defensive gun use in this country is not a "rare event", by any means. Americans use guns defensively 2.5 million times, or more, each year, and in 75% of those instances, a handgun is used.
Kleck and Gertz further concluded that, contrary to former Chief McNamara's counsel, use of a firearm is the safest and surest means of preventing or surviving a violent criminal attack. Among their other findings:
Kleck further concluded from existing data that armed defenders lose their guns to an attacker less than one percent of the time.
Yet, in spite of overwhelming evidence showing that civilian disarmament amounts to nothing more than a recipe for disaster, propaganda calculated to frighten law-abiding citizens into surrendering their firearms nevertheless continues unabated.
In order to better understand where efforts to disarm Americans are leading, we need only look at what has happened in Great Britain during the 20th century, where Brits have been slowly conditioned to accept the notion that self-defense with any weapon is never acceptable, and that firearms are suitable only for sporting purposes.
The history of the British government's attempts to disarm its own subjects was the focus of a January 14, 1999 column in the Washington Times, by Dr. Joyce Lee Malcolm. According to Malcolm, civilian disarmament can be traced back to Britain's 1920 Firearms Act, the first measure intended to restrict guns in the U.K. That law required the local police chief to certify that a gun-owner had "good reason" to own a gun, and was fit to do so.
Over the years, both provisos were narrowed, so that, by 1969, "police were informed that it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person". Those instructions to British police were contained in a series of secret memos issued by the Home Office (the British equivalent of the U.S. Dept. of Justice), and remained classified until 1989.
Further tightening the screws on the ability of Brits to defend themselves, the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act rendered possession of any article "made, adapted, or intended" for an "offensive purpose" "without lawful authority or excuse" a crime. During the debate which accompanied passage of the 1953 law, the attorney-general stated that the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets…it is the duty of society to protect them."
And so, self-defense (and the means to that end) was incrementally removed as a legitimate reason for firearm ownership in Great Britain. With firearms relegated to the status of "sporting goods", it was inevitable that one day, one of those "sporting" guns would be used with tragic consequences, and serve as the straw to break the camel's back of private firearm ownership in Great Britain.
That day came on March 13, 1996, when Thomas Hamilton entered the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, with his four lawfully acquired handguns. Armed with two 9mm Browning pistols, and two Smith & Wesson revolvers, he shot 16 children and their teacher to death, and then, finally, himself.
In the ensuing Cullen Inquiry of the Dunblane massacre, among the "General Principles" enumerated by the Labour Party was the following:
"…firearm possession is usually justified on the grounds of sport. By definition, sport is a recreational pastime. It seems to us that those who follow a particular hobby are under an overwhelming obligation to ensure that their pursuit does not place the safety of the public at unacceptable risk."
What followed next was inevitable, for there remained no moral justification for placing innocent people at risk, in order to pursue something as frivolous as a "sport". With logic and hysteria on their side, the firearm-prohibitionists in the U.K. quickly set about banning and confiscating all handguns.
While rifles and shotguns may still be possessed, the restrictions governing them are severe. Now illegal in Great Britain are fully automatic long guns, and semi-automatic long guns (except .22 rifles for purposes of "vermin" elimination), as well as pump-action or slide-action rifles.
In the words of John Pate, a British firearm activist commenting in a private communication,
"As you can probably imagine, people simply get sick of the bureaucracy and visits to and from policemen and give up shooting. Anyhow, what use is a gun if you aren't allowed to have it for self-defence?"
Despite strict gun-control, crime and criminality are now alive and well in Great Britain. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics publication, as of 1995, rates for robbery, assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft in England and Wales had dramatically surpassed those here in the States.
Added Dr. Malcolm, "Englishmen afraid of visiting an America where 31 states now have laws permitting people to carry concealed weapons [are] shocked to learn they are at far greater risk of violence at home."
All credible scientific evidence now shows that civilian disarmament only harms those who are left defenseless. It follows, therefore, that the philosophy of civilian disarmament is morally indefensible. And so, we've thought of a few more questions to put to David Hemenway and the rest of the firearm-prohibitionists:
Returning to Franklin Zimring, there really is only one logical answer to the question he asked: people do not give up their guns voluntarily because unilateral disarmament is not rational - it's downright dangerous!
To that we would add the words of Dr. Edgar Suter, National Chairman of Doctors for Integrity in Policy Research:
"If pacifists who deny we have a right to self-defense wish to eschew the safest and most effective tools of self-protection, so be it. But their harmful philosophy must not be imposed upon an entire society…[Overwhelmingly] citizens of our distressed society are moral and responsible people in whose hands guns are the safest and most effective means of protection against criminals, crazies, and tyrants."
Dr. Joanne D. Eisen is engaged in the private practice of Family Dentistry. She is President, Association of Dentists for Accuracy in Scientific Media (ADASM), a national organization of dentists concerned with preserving the integrity of the professional dental literature, against the politicization which has corrupted America's medical literature.
Dr. Paul Gallant is engaged in the private practice of Family Optometry, Wesley Hills, NY. He is Chairman, Committee for Law-Abiding Gun-Owners, Rockland (LAGR), a 2nd Amendment grassroots group, based in Rockland County, NY.
The authors may be reached atLAGR, P.O. Box 354, Thiells, NY 10984-0354
Reproduced with permission from Guns & Ammo Magazine, July 1999.
©1999 by Petersen Publishing Co.; All rights reserved.