An Important Moment in the
by Dr. Michael S. Brown
July 2001 is a landmark for supporters of gun
rights. Two more states, New Mexico and Michigan, join the ranks of states that
issue permits allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons. Two
thirds (33) of the American states now fall into this category, if you include
Vermont, which allows non-felons to carry for any lawful purpose without a
Laws that allow good citizens to carry
concealed weapons are typically known as "right to carry" or
"shall issue" laws. They put the burden of proof on the state to show
why a citizen should be denied the right to carry a firearm, rather than
requiring the citizen to show a special need.
In states where the old-style
"discretionary" laws are still in effect, local government officials
often issue permits only to their friends, political contributors and
When the right-to-carry concept first made
national headlines with passage of the Florida law in 1987, the mainstream
liberal media considered it a bizarre and stupid social experiment. Anti-gun
lobbyists boldly predicted that blood would flow in the streets as gun-crazed
people shot each other over minor disputes. When the predicted carnage failed to
materialize, the media lost interest. Reporting the success of the law did not
fit their anti-gun agenda.
Many more states followed suit. In each case,
the new state law was bitterly opposed by anti-gun groups using the same tired
clichés about Dodge City and blood in the streets. Obsessed with clever sound
bites, they tried to impose a more sinister label, "hidden handguns."
To increase the irrational fear of firearms, they invoked images of hidden
handguns in schools, churches and other places rich with emotional symbolism.
In some cases, local politicians and police
chiefs also fought to retain the power to decide who would receive a permit.
They parroted the same misleading slogans served up by the organized anti-gun
lobby. Sometimes they came up with their own bizarre statements.
A county sheriff in Michigan was recently
quoted as saying, "There's somebody going to get a gun permit that
shouldn't have one ...and shoot up a school or kill a spouse."
This fellow is probably sincere, if somewhat
confused. Nobody could deliberately invent a sound bite that seems so clueless.
Obviously, if someone wanted to commit such acts of violence, the possession or
lack of a permit is completely irrelevant.
None of these tactics were able to stem the
advance of shall-issue laws in state after state. Concealed carry laws began to
attract media attention again in 1998, when an astonishingly intelligent
economist/criminologist named John
Lott published an extremely detailed study of their impact on crime.
Professor Lott's book, "More
Guns, Less Crime", is required reading for any student of the gun
debate. It documents a significant reduction in several types of crime, like
murder, rape and aggravated assault in states that enacted shall-issue laws.
Even multiple-victim public shootings, the ones that attract saturation coverage
from the national media, are less likely to occur in shall-issue states.
Just as important, and perhaps more interesting
to sociologists, the study also confirms the many anecdotal reports that gun
crimes committed by permit holders are vanishingly rare.
By screening applicants and rejecting those
with a criminal record, this unprecedented social experiment has given us an
unexpected insight. The fact that permit holders have been so law abiding tells
us a lot about those who are not. It is a dramatic reminder that society is
divided into those who choose to obey the laws and those who choose not to.
The stunning success of shall-issue laws proves
that guns do not make people commit crimes or become violent. This is an
unwelcome lesson for those who blame crime and violence on easy access to guns.
They hate shall-issue laws, because they threaten their ideas about society and
human behavior. They fear the public will not support laws restricting
everyone's rights if people realize that most gun crimes are committed by a
small, lawless minority who will ignore the restrictions anyway.
These issues will affect future sociological
debates, but one result is already apparent. The way in which the anti-gun lobby
fights each new shall-issue law appears to be catching up with them.
Screaming the same false alarms over and over
does serious damage to their credibility, especially when the fables are so
easily refuted by looking at states that have had similar laws for many years.
Money from rich donors and the expert services of media
sorcerers only go so far when the message is inherently false.
Why should voters believe their unsupported
promises of safety through stricter gun laws when their past dishonesty is so
blatant? Many journalists, even those with a liberal bias, are no longer willing
to risk their reputations by writing one-sided anti-gun articles. This may
partially account for the difficulties now being experienced by gun control
Anti-gun organizations have been forced to
merge and adopt new names for the next round of their utopian crusade. But what
they really need to do is start telling the truth.
Dr. Michael S. Brown of Vancouver,
Washington is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws: www.dsgl.org
email: email@example.com. Dr. Brown's
online archive can be found at http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Brown.