L. Neil Smith's
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
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
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
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
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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