Common sense about guns
Post-Newtown, there is one thing we all agree on. We want to save lives. We want mass shootings to stop. Our common question is, how can we prevent the next fusillade from killing the next group of innocents?
To start with, we need to recognize that our emotions about guns don’t necessarily align with the facts. Despite how we may feel, crimes committed with guns are not increasing in the United States, and this fact alone is good cause for us to look more carefully at how we respond to the horrific experience of December 14, 2012.
There are more privately-owned guns in the U.S. right now than ever before, nearly 300 million. Yet the most recently-released FBI report on US crime rates shows a fifth straight year of falling rates of violent crime, including crimes committed with guns.
Ironically, states and cities with the strictest gun control laws suffer some of the worst rates of violent crime, as well as the highest rates of homicide committed with guns. Chicago is a prime example. In December 2012, The Chicago Tribune reported an 11 percent increase in city shootings for the year, and a 49 percent increase in November 2012 alone (measured from the same period a year earlier, a time when rates of criminal gun violence were already high in the city).
The New York Times reported last month that Chicago, even with "bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013..." What are we to make of this?
Professor John Lott of Yale University has detailed for decades that violent crime falls fastest in jurisdictions with more legally owned and legally concealed handguns. Lott’s landmark book, "More Guns, Less Crime" is in its third edition, and comprehensively chronicles the crime-deterring effects of lawful private gun ownership.
Grief-stricken letters to the editor frequently claim that guns are made only to kill, maim, and destroy human life. This is not true. Guns, in their lawful use in civilian society, are made for exactly the opposite purpose. They are made to save, protect, and preserve human life.
What makes the difference between guns that murder, and guns that prevent murder? The person in possession of the gun makes the difference. Lawful possession of guns by private citizens who are neither mentally ill nor have a past criminal history is critical for the protection of civil order and peace. Private, lawful gun ownership, in parallel with visible law enforcement presence in our public spaces, is the best way to deter violent criminal acts.
Does this give us any insight into preventing mass shootings? Lott’s recent research offers this crucial point: In every instance except one in the past 50 years, "All of the multiple-victim public shootings, where more than three people have been killed, have occurred where guns are banned." As Lott puts it, "We try to make an area safe by banning guns, but Š t’s the law-abiding good citizens who obey the ban, and not the criminals."
Proclaiming an area "gun free" does nothing to increase safety. In truth, "gun-free zones," despite our best intentions, become danger zones. All of our experience and research indicates that gun bans in public spaces create inviting targets for criminals, including mass shooters.
Mass shootings occur, almost universally, where the shooter knows he will be unopposed, and public schools are at the top of this list of defenseless targets. In this light, the National Rifle Association’s recommendation to post armed officers in public schools deserves consideration.
Yet Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, called the idea of armed security in public schools "irresponsible and dangerous." Weingarten said that "schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses." But schools -- and our other shared spaces -- cannot be safe sanctuaries unless they are defensively equipped.
To make our schools safe, we must employ a basic insight: good deadly force is necessary to deter and stop evil deadly force. Effective law enforcement is almost entirely reliant on this principle. We wholeheartedly embrace this principle on Main Street. Our students deserve to live under the protection of this same principle in our public schools.
As President Obama said, our hearts were broken by Newtown. They remain that way. But emotion is not enough for an effective response. We need applied rationality. If we are unable to oppose evil with a countervailing, lawful force, we have already surrendered to evil.
The conclusion is clear. The presence in our homes, on our streets, and in our everyday lives of good citizens who own guns for defensive, lawful purposes, combined with a visible law enforcement presence in our public spaces, including our public schools, is the best way to deter violent crime, and to stop mass shootings.
To save lives, now more than ever we need political leaders who will promote this common sense about guns.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
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