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Living in Fear
. . . . of gun-control laws.

By Dave Kopel, Dr. Paul Gallant, & Dr. Joanne Eisen of the Independence Institute

January 17, 2001
Originally published on
Reprinted with authors' permissions.

December 26, 2000, and another mass murder, as 42-year-old Michael McDermott went on a rampage in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Armed with a rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun, McDermott killed seven of his co-workers.

Predictably, another call for "tougher" gun-control laws, and a renewed media blitz designed to promote the fear of armed neighbors in America.

In a recently published Epidemiology article, “Community Firearms, Community Fear,” three Harvard public-health professors provide the rationale for more repressive gun laws, even if the gun laws do nothing to reduce crime. You see, restricting the rights of gun owners will supposedly make other people feel safer: "most Americans are not impervious to the psychological effects of guns in their community, and that, by a margin of more than 3 to 1, more guns make others in the community feel less safe rather than more safe."

This is a notably explicit statement of the operating philosophy of the gun-prohibition lobbies: Guns are bad; reducing the number of guns is good, no matter who is disarmed. (The only exception is for government employees and security guards, for whom gun ownership is alright.)

This year, Congress and most state legislatures will see lots and lots of fear-mongering against gun owners.

The gun-prohibition lobbies portray defensive gun owners as incompetent nitwits. What are the real odds of firearm-wielding neighbors shooting someone by mistake? According to criminologists Gary Kleck and Don B. Kates, "erroneous killings by civilians total only about 30 per year . . . compare[d] to the police who erroneously kill 5 to 11 times more innocent people each year."

How safe did the unarmed victims of Michael McDermott feel in their gun-free workplace — sitting ducks who could only cower in fear, waiting to be shot? And just how safe did the survivors of McDermott's attack feel, dreading they might be his next victims?

The police, however, were very safe. They took so long putting on SWAT gear and surrounding the building that by the time they finally entered the building, McDermott had killed everyone he wanted, and was sitting on a couch, quietly waiting to be arrested.

What might we expect if American gun-owners gave in to the "community fears" created by the gun prohibition lobbies, and started surrendering their self-defense guns? Researchers Drs. John Lott and William Landes studied exactly that question. Noting that "few events obtain the same instant worldwide news coverage as multiple victim public shootings," they pointed out that "the most common suggestion for reducing the incidence of public shootings (the term we use to denote shootings in public places where two or more individuals are killed or injured) calls for greater regulation of guns."

But in examining data between 1977 and 1995, Lott and Landes found that deaths and injuries from mass public shootings — like Wakefield — fall dramatically after right-to-carry concealed handgun laws are enacted. "Right-to-carry" laws, also known as "shall issue" laws, require issuing authorities to provide a concealed carry handgun license to all qualified applicants. Massachusetts is one of 18 states without such a law.

During the 1977-95 time period, there were 19 deaths and 97 injuries in states without right-to-carry laws, but only one death and two injuries in states which had such laws. In addition, where data were available both before and after passage of right-to-carry laws, the average death rate from mass shootings dropped by up to 91% after the laws took effect, and injuries dropped by over 80%.

Never do the firearm prohibitionists consider the real risks posed by civilian disarmament. Many of them view successful self-defense as an affront to their ideas of order and of government supremacy.

The "community fear" of non-gun-owners is a recent phenomenon, and is the product of dishonest fear-mongering by the anti-self-defense lobby and its media allies. In stark contrast, man's fear of being disarmed, and rendered vulnerable to predators, is an age-old and historically validated "psychic cost." There is nothing illusory about it.

Should baseless, irrational fears, falsely created by those who loath self-defense, impair or negate the innocent person's right to self-protection, and the means to secure that protection?

Samuel Wheeler, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, succinctly provided the answer to that question:

"since we are talking about rights, it is not a matter of how we feel about living in a society which has armed citizens, unless the strong and nimble are willing to compensate the weak and frail for the risks imposed on them."

For the last 30 years, many gun-owners have offered concessions intended to allay the fears of their non-gun-owning neighbors. But they have found that concessions simply promote increasingly shrill demands for more concessions. And that the only "compromise" that will appease the fear-mongers is the surrender of all firearms.

Gun-owners are increasingly unwilling to sacrifice more rights in a futile effort to appease prohibitionists. At the same time, the gun-prohibition lobbies are trying to get people to view gun owners with the same kinds of mean-spirited, irrational fear and hatred that were once inflicted on black people who moved into white neighborhoods. "They" must be dangerous, the hate groups warn.


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