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67


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 67, March 15, 2000
Ides of March Special

Violence is a Function of Behavior, Not a Function of Firearms

by Robert Ellis
renb1@juno.com

Special to TLE

           I was born into a non-violent family. I began shooting firearms more than fifty years ago. My extended family of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, all their spouses and children now in its fourth generation, numbers well over 300 persons. Most of us own firearms for one reason or another. We've never had a firearms accident, nor has any member of the family ever committed a criminal act with or without a firearm. As families go, we aren't all that unusual. We have the retired military, the war veterans, businesspersons, farmers, teachers, police and fire personnel, merchants, and other professionals and non-professionals in a variety of fields of endeavor. Most families probably have a similar composition and history. We are a non-violent group of people. There are hunters, target shooters, collectors and those who keep firearms on the farms, in their homes, and in their businesses to ward off two-legged or four-legged predators. This is non-violent behavior. Some of us have used firearms to deter or to stop criminals, thugs and villains, as do approximately 2.5 million people in this country every year. Self defense and protection are not violent behaviors.
           According to figures prepared by various agencies of the government, and other groups and organizations, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the National Safety Council, and others, about 99.8% of all firearms, and more that 99.6% of all handguns in this country will NOT be used to commit crimes in any given year. Almost 100 per cent of all firearms in this country are owned, stored, and used safely and non-violently all the time, every day, every week, every year.
           Every day of the year approximately 100 million people in this country who own firearms DO NOT use them to harm themselves or others. The very same devices that millions of people own and use non-violently for recreation or personal safety are misused by a very few people in some criminal manner.
           When I was in high school in the 1950s one could purchase handguns, rifles, and shotguns at low prices through the mail. Sadly, in 1963 a president was murdered with a firearm which had been mail-ordered and we saw the end of mail-order guns. During the 1950s, a post-war era of unprecedented economic growth in this country, there were guns and there were schools. There was not the level of violence that we have seen in the last couple of years. This new level of violence has not been caused by firearms. Many public schools included firearms training as a part of their elective curricula, had shooting teams, and enjoyed healthy competitions in matches against other school teams. This was not violent behavior. There are still a few high schools and several colleges that have shooting teams. The United States has an olympic shooting team which competes in as many as 13 shooting events in international competition. In 1996, a 17 year old American female, Kim Rhode, won a gold medal in international olympic shooting competition. This was not violent behavior.
           There are millions of firearms owners who purchase gear, equipment, firearms, licenses, and federal waterfowl stamps every year. Much of the money they spend in taxes and fees is directed toward preservation of field, forest, streams, rivers, meadows, wetlands,woods, and the preservation of numerous species of wildlife. This is not violent behavior. Sportsmen in organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited and many other national, state, and local groups contribute millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people-hours annually in volunteer efforts to preserve, protect and improve the natural environment. They teach and promote safe and responsible uses of firearms. This is not violent behavior.
           Responsible gun-owners tend to be non-violent persons because they know, understand and appreciate the awesome power of firearms and the responsibility that accompanies ownership of firearms.
           We are being told by opportunistic and shameless politicians in the wake of a recent spate of school violence in which the perpetrators chose to use firearms that the country is awash in firearms. Would that it were so. In the definitive study of firearms in America, "MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME - Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws", Dr. John Lott demonstrates conclusively, using law-enforcement figures, that what is politically correct in this age, is, in fact, dangerous for all citizens.
           His book should be required reading for anyone who wishes to discuss the issues of firearms and their relationship to crime and safety in this country. Never before in the history of this country have firearms been so controlled, so regulated and so otherwise hard to obtain. No more mail order. Instead, we have waiting periods, background checks and other bureaucratic obstacles which one must endure in order to purchase a firearm. Non of these restrictive measures have worked to reduce crime or violence. Non of these measures have any effect on violent behavior.
           They are nothing more than impediments for law-abiding citizens who would own firearms. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that gun registration will have any effect on violent behavior.
           If "gun control" were the answer to the issues of violence, then cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, all of which have severely restrictive laws prohibiting citizens from owning or carrying firearms, would be among the safest cities in the world. Instead, these cities with severe gun control laws, are among the most dangerous cities in the world. Gun control laws do nothing to reduce violent behavior because firearms are NOT the cause of violent behavior. Unfortunately, many of our elected politicians don't seem to understand this reality.
           The national Center for Health Statistics reports that fatal firearms accidents nationwide have dropped in number and are continuing to decline. Largely due to education efforts by groups such as the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and others, the fatal firearms accident reached an all-time low of 0.5 per 100,000 in 1995. The rate is continuing to stay well below the rate for other types of fatal accidents including motor vehicles (16.3/100,000); falls (5.3/100,000); poisonings (3.7/100,000; drownings (1.5/100,000); fires (1.2/100,000); and suffocation by ingested objects (1.1/100,000).
           Violence is a function of behavior. If a violent person chooses a firearm as the instrumentality with which to wreak havoc, the firearm is no more to blame than is the vehicle of a drunk driver. If a person chooses to commit arson, the match is not the guilty agent. Driving while impaired, by the way, is violent behavior. If a violent person strikes another with a stick or a stone, the violent behavior is in the person, not the stick or the stone. The issues we need to address to reduce violence have much more to do with behavioral choices and much less to do with "gun control".
           Maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on new laws. There are already enough laws prohibiting any kind of harmful behavior imaginable, that one person could impose on another. It is already criminal behavior to murder another person. Is murder really more of a crime if it occurs in a school? Is it really more of a crime if the victim is a government employee, or member of a minority group? Is drug dealing more criminal if done within 500 feet of a school? Maybe it is time to stop grinding out new and ineffective laws and to start thinking about taking effective steps to stop violent behavior. Unfortunately, many of our elected, and appointed officials know little about behavior, crime, and solutions, but they seem to "feel better" if they give the appearance of "doing something". For years we have had legislators cranking out new laws by the reams, to show their constituents that they are "doing something", but they haven't really done anything except produce more new ineffective laws. Maybe it is time to accept the fact that more new laws will not solve the problems. Maybe we could direct all that legislative concern to something more effective.
           In 1998 the United States had 1.8 million of its citizens incarcerated. This is a new record. There was a time not so long ago when citizens in this country had more control over their own lives, more freedom, fewer regulations and regulatory agencies. People felt as if they had more freedom in the markets of goods and services. There was much less violence in those times. The proliferation of laws and regulations has brought with it a new level of frustrations and stresses for citizens, manifest in everything from health care, to censorship, to taxes, to what we now call 'road rage'. There was much less violence when there was less frustration and when people felt less stress. Do we need new laws to solve problems of attitude and behavior? I think not.
           We are told that 'gun control' will solve all the problems of violence. There are many who think first of firearms whenever they hear the word 'violence'. There is much violence without firearms. Most firearms are never used in any kind of violent activity. In England there is gun control. The department of Justice reported last year that England's crime rate is now higher than the crime rate in the United States. Do we really want to follow England's lead in victim disarmament?
           I think not.
           Recently the United States and England led NATO in a violent air war. In this war effort NATO was dropping more than 30,000 tons of bombs daily in Yugoslavia. This was, by the way, the fourth country the United States had bombed in the previous eight months. Right now we have police officers in this country killing innocent citizens at an alarmingly all-time-high rate. I seriously doubt that what is being called the 'culture of violence' derives from the entertainment industry and from children playing computer games. Clearly, there are more sinister factors at work here. More new gun control laws as a means of reducing violence would be as effective in reducing violence as new laws regulating hair styles. Was the recent increase in attacks on innocent citizens and the latest round of bombing simply the government's way of expressing its frustrations? Over the last 36 years we have seen billions of dollars squandered in vain attempts to curb drug use in the 'war on drugs" We have been witness to more infringements on our liberties; and, we have seen in the last three years an absolutely horrific increase in the level of violence in public schools. In this same decade we have been witness to the outrages on the part of the federal government at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Then there was the bombing in Oklahoma City. It appears that there are some members of our society who perceive themselves as helpless, with no control over their own lives. They have chosen the same course of action the government choose, to regain control using violent means. This bespeaks a problem much more serious than anything which could be addressed by more ineffective 'gun control' laws.
           There are more serious and much deeper considerations which need attention. Are our elected officials brave enough to seek such solutions? Or, will they just carry on with business as usual, cranking out more new laws that are never really getting to the heart of the problems? These issues will not be resolved with legislative attempts to mollify the citizens by demonstrating that we should "feel better" because they have "done something".


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