President Obama has called for strong gun control legislation and signed 23 new executive orders to begin what he believes is the right path for improved safety in America. The problem with this is gun bans and restrictions endanger lives.
At the Newtown, CT, vigil, Obama said, "if there's even one step we can take to save another [life] … then surely we have an obligation to try." The president reiterited this view, nearly verbatim, during the press conference announcing the 23 executive orders, saying, "if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try." Vice President Joe Biden also said during the press conference, "We have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that anything like this could happen again."
This sentiment is often heard from gun control advocates. It's sloppy - because it seems correct on its face, it doesn't require you to do any thinking about it. This can be very dangerous. We ought to be thinking very critically about this idea and asking ourselves several tough questions: How many lives will it save - and at what cost? Will this policy endanger lives, and if so will it endanger more lives than it might save?
We ought to compare the potential for lives saved vs. lives endangered, and then weigh the cost we pay in exchange for any benefit or loss.
Endangered lives: the D.C. gun ban
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, a former Washington, D.C. prosecutor wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the endangered lives and risks, stating: "a nationwide firearms crackdown would place an undue burden on law enforcement and endanger civil liberties while potentially increasing crime." He would know something about it; as prosecutor, Shapiro enforced firearms and ammunition cases during D.C.'s gun ban. Though he dislikes firearms, he is skeptical of benefits "many imagine will result from additional gun-control efforts" (emphasis added).
Chief among the dangers to the people of D.C. is that the gun ban had unintended consequences. "It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves," Shapiro continued. He states that violent crime and homicides increased after the law was enacted, with homicides going from 188 in 1976 to 369 in 1988. By 1993, annual homicides reached 454.
Civil liberties were also endangered and police efforts wasted - leaving citizens with less police protection. Legislative changes empowered judges to hold gun suspects in pretrial detention without bond for up to 100 days. There were also efforts to enact curfews and seize automobiles found to contain firearms. Police cracked down on guns, creating a special Gun Recovery Unit in 1995. It was disbanded two years later in 1997 having been found ineffective, so more uniformed officers could be assigned to patrol the streets. Police periodically tried other gun crackdowns over the next decade, all with little effect.
Contrary to gun control advocate worries, after the gun ban was struck down, homicides in the D.C. have steadily gone down, from 186 in 2008 to 88 in 2012 - the lowest number since the law was enacted in 1976.
Kennesaw: To save a life, allow more guns?
Kennesaw, GA is among the safest placest in the United States. The violent crime rate for Kennesaw in 2010 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 85.16%, and the city property crime rate in Kennesaw was lower than the national property crime rate average by 46.46%.
This chart shows violent crime over a 10 year period, comparing Kennesaw against the state of Georgia, and the U.S. national violent crime incidents per 100,000 people (to get an accurate apples-to-apples comparison, adjusting for population size).
This chart shows various violent crime offenses for just 2010. Remarkably that year, Kennesaw had zero murder or manslaughter crimes.
What may hold the key to Kennesaw's secret? In 1982, Kennesaw passed a law requiring "every head of household to maintain a firearm together with ammunition." After passage of the law, the burglary rate in Kennesaw declined and still today, Kennesaw has the lowest crime rate in Cobb County.
Trampled liberty, endangered lives of average people
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. This is a parapharse (with "liberties" added) to what Benjamin Franklin actually said, but regardless I believe it holds true. It certainly has bearing in our quest to answer the question: "How many lives at what cost ... to liberty? to other lives?"
Often lost in the debate is that homicide and violent crime in the U.S. are at a 20 year low or longer. (Homicide numbers are actually the lowest on record since at least 1976, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a DoJ agency). Mass shooting homicides have qualitative differences from "plain ol''" homicides that elicit an emotional response from us; that response is valid. However, when all is said and done - for all the media coverage these shootings receive - mass murder accounts for a fraction of 1% of homicides.
How many lives are we talking about saving? And at what cost to our liberty? Some may scoff at the question of "liberty," but some are quite alarmed at calls to confiscate weapons, as well as calls for a national registry - fearing if not today's administration, perhaps a future administration could abuse such a list and confiscate citizen's guns. What cost to liberty will we accept when homicide is the lowest it's been in decades?
Lost in the debate is that average people use guns to defend themselves; that average people are victimized by criminals - sometimes in their own homes - and want the means to defend themselves secured. These stories often don't make headlines, as most homicides don't make headlines, but are a part of us nonetheless.
One story that has made headlines involves Melinda Herman, a Georgia mother who shot an intruder while protecting her kids in their own home. Fortunately, she didn't face more than one attacker as her 6-round revolver was empty after confronting a single attacker. In the Pacific Northwest, a group of masked men, one of which had an AR-15 rifle, tied up a family in their home during a home invasion. This home invasion also involved multiple attackers. The video below shows an average citizen confront a thief with his shotgun (also note this is a solid argument against those who claim "guns only purpose is to kill" - he points his shotgun at the criminal and holds him until the police arrive; no shots fired - no one killed, just an average guy protecting himself and his loved ones their home).
Whether the individual chooses a revolver, a shotgun, or an AR-15 rifle (should there be multiple assailants to defend against) - shouldn't the law-abiding be able to decide how to defend their lives and their families in their own homes?
The rebuttal is often: "Would you just do nothing? Gun rights advocates never want to budge on any reasonable gun laws." Of course, every gun control advocate thinks their version of new guns laws are simply "common sense."
The truth is though, there are many gun rights advocates that do advocate some changes, such as stronger background checks, fully funding NICS (the background check system), stronger prosecution of those who falsify background check forms - which the Justice Department rarely prosecutes, as well as stronger enforcement and prosecution of straw man purchasers and illegal gun trafficking.
Gun rights advocates want safer streets, homes, neighborhoods, and schools too. Many of them have families of their own and want to be able to defend and protect their lives should the police be minutes away when seconds count. They want to put the emphasis on enforcing existing laws, which our government is not doing fully. Washington D.C.'s residents fought a long battle and suffered high crime for many years - as well as restricted liberty. We shouldn't make the same mistake nationally. Restricting gun rights of average, law abiding folks, puts us all in danger.