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Shooting Match
Does the anti-gun crowd think you're stupid?

by Sam MacDonald

Published November 21, 2001 by Reason Online
Reprinted with Permission
Be sure to visit Reason's Gun Pages for good, quality material.

How bad has the post-September 11 era been for the anti-gun lobby? To understand fully, consider a simple thought experiment:

You are dreaming cozily in your bed when you hear your front door give way with a crash. Moments later, you hear two sets of footsteps thudding up the stairs toward your bedroom. Your first thought is to pick up the phone and dial 911, but you know the intruders will be upon you long before the police arrive. As a last resort, you reach into the nightstand and pull out your .44 Magnum. You thank god that you reached it in time, open the window, toss the gun into the bushes below, and turn to face your assailants unarmed.

Welcome to Self Defense 101, according to the Violence Policy Center. In a study the anti-gun group published this Monday, VPC argues that handguns should be outlawed because they don't work. Or more specifically, they do work: You're just too stupid to figure out how to use one. Seriously.

The 90-page document is titled "Unintended Consequences: Pro-Handgun Experts Prove that Handguns Are a Dangerous Choice for Self-Defense." The report cites all the usual suspects, including numbers that show more people die from gun-related suicides than gun-related homicides. (Message: If you are dumb enough to buy a gun, you're probably dumb enough to kill yourself with it. On purpose.)

In a press release accompanying the report, its author, VPC senior policy analyst Tom Diaz, says, "This study is comprised substantially of writings from pro-gun experts who readily admit handguns are basically impossible to use effectively in self-defense."

The supposed innovation is the report's reliance on usually trigger-happy analysts who at some point during their careers mentioned that if you do buy a gun, you should probably figure out which end the bullets come out before you try to blast a burglar. There is even an appendix that serves as a preemptive strike against anyone informed enough to mention Prof. John Lott's substantial body of work as a counter-argument.

It's not exactly news that some people think that it's "basically impossible" to use a gun to defend yourself. What's more instructive here is to note just how far the anti-gun lobby has fallen, and what a recent spate of setbacks has done to the once-powerful movement. They are no longer simply wrong. They are becoming desperate.

The litany is quite gruesome, really. The disarmament coalition lost its champion when President Bill Clinton squirmed out of office. Al Gore lost the election to a Republican from gun-happy Texas, who promptly appointed John Ashcroft attorney general. Ashcroft soon added injury to insult when he wrote a letter to the National Rifle Association promising to uphold the Second Amendment as an individual right. The thrashing continued in October when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit threw its judicial weight behind Ashcroft's interpretation. Court decisions last fall and this spring that dismissed huge city lawsuits against gun manufacturers certainly didn't help.

These official setbacks pale in comparison to a far more pervasive threat, however: People just aren't so keen on gun-control stories anymore. A National Academies of Science study that could eventually provide a sea change in gun-control laws kicked off in August. Except for a cable news representative who showed up three hours late, Reason was the only media outlet that covered it. Nobody is complaining about a provision in the aviation security bill that allows airlines to arm pilots. There is no talk of gun control in other anti-terror legislation. On October 9, a Washington Post story reported that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly Handgun, Inc.) was hit so hard by the slowing economy and funds diverted to terror victims that the vocal organization has laid off 14 staffers, a full 20 percent of its workforce. The National Association of Chiefs of Police issued their 14th annual survey on Monday. Over 93 percent said yes to "Should any law abiding citizen be able to purchase a firearm for sport or self-defense?" Over 62 percent said concealed handgun permits would help reduce crime. This caused exactly zero waves on the political or media landscape.

John Q. Public doesn't seem so sure that it's "basically impossible" to use a gun in self defense, either. The October 22 Washington Post reported that in the month following the attacks, traffic at the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was up 20 percent over last year. On October 15, the Los Angeles Times reported that in California, "the number of people buying guns jumped by more than 50% the week of the attacks… and has remained about 32% above the previous year." On November 8, The Dallas Morning News reported that applications for concealed-carry permits in Texas nearly tripled in the two months following September 11.

This explosion in demand is not lost on the fine folks at the Violence Prevention Center. In the aforementioned press release, officials claim that they issued the new report "in response to the reported spike in handgun sales since the September 11th attacks." They accuse the gun industry of using the terror attacks to forward its agenda. If sales are any indication—and if the best argument against guns is that people are too dumb to use them—that effort might be easier than anyone ever imagined.

Sam MacDonald is Reason's Washington editor.

See also:'s VPC Archives


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