November 21, 2001
The gun control debate has been forced off center stage in the aftermath of
the 2000 election and the 9-11 terrorist attacks. This is an excellent time to
take a deep breath and see what can be learned from the experience of the last
The public dispute over the role of guns in society reached a shrill peak
during the decade from 1990 to 2000. Most arguments took the form of slurs and
slogans hurled across the airwaves by loyal troops on both sides. But for those
who prefer a more thoughtful analysis, this intense period of cultural warfare
also produced an unprecedented flood of books on the subject.
At the ideological extremes are books that blatantly appeal to the emotions,
like Josh Sugarmann's "Every Handgun is Aimed at You" and books that
falsify historical research like "Arming America - Origins of a National
Gun Culture" by Michael Bellesiles.
More scholarly and ethical authors produced excellent works like "To
Keep and Bear Arms", a look at the history behind the second amendment by
historian Joyce Lee Malcom. Many readers also enjoyed "The Samurai, the
Mountie, and the Cowboy" by David B. Kopel, which discussed the cultural
differences that affect national views of gun ownership.
My favorite topic is the fascinating nature of the debate itself, and by
coincidence a new book has just appeared that looks back at the many strange and
interesting facets of the public gun control debate.
Criminology professor Gary Kleck and attorney Don B. Kates collaborated to
produce "Armed - New Perspectives on Gun Control" from Prometheus
Books. They are known for their criticism of extremist rhetoric on both sides of
the issue as well as their insistence on honesty and respect for scientific
principles in analyzing the role of guns in society. They both make a point of
saying that some types of gun control may be appropriate.
The book contains chapters on all the important topics. Kates begins with an
excellent review of the role played by doctors and medical publications. He
demolishes the fake studies and exposes the hijacking of medical research to
support a political agenda. Numerous quotes document the often ludicrous claims
of anti-gun "researchers" and the blatant censorship of information by
medical journals. His use of the term "overt mendacity" is a polite
way of saying that the anti-gun doctors simply lied.
Kleck writes the chapter on media bias, which offers a more complete analysis
of this phenomenon than I have previously seen. He explores the various ways in
which reporters develop their deliberate anti-gun bias and how unintentional
bias creeps into the system.
One particularly chilling piece of evidence is a 1989 letter from the
editorial offices of Time magazine to a reader who complained about their
anti-gun bias. The letter claimed that "the time for opinions on the
dangers of gun availability is long since gone." Apparently, all the
editors at Time agreed that it was time to get rid of the guns, which relieved
them of any responsibility to provide balanced coverage of the issue.
Kates explains how the anti-gun lobby "poisoned the well" by
demonizing gun owners, apparently oblivious to the fact that they were insulting
roughly half of the adult population. These foolish attacks on the character of
gun owners were exploited by gun rights groups to create a powerful backlash
against the anti-gun movement. Pro-gun organizations found this so helpful that
they reportedly purchased the rights to reprint cartoons that were created to
denigrate gun owners.
Another major mistake of the gun control groups was their failure to
coordinate public statements on their eventual goal. Kleck offers a long series
of quotes from anti-gun leaders proclaiming their intent to completely ban
handguns, and in some cases all guns. Even when those goals were later denied,
the public was left with a perception of anti-gun organizations as extremists
who could not be trusted. Although most Americans support some sort of
"reasonable" gun control laws, very few agree with the radical aims of
Professor Kleck is arguably the nation's foremost authority on the
statistical analysis of defensive firearms use. His chapters on the frequency of
defensive gun use and the effectiveness of guns for self protection nicely
summarize the latest research.
"Armed - New Perspectives on Gun Control" would be excellent
reading for politicians, journalists, teachers and anyone with an interest in
this issue. I particularly value it for the numerous footnotes that provide
documentation for future discussions and the wonderful collection of radical
Anyone who is interested in the truth about gun control should buy a copy.
When finished, they should send it to someone who needs to be educated.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, on the web
at: www.dsgl.org. Email the author at: email@example.com.
His KeepAndBearArms.com archive can be found here: http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Brown.