CHARLTON HESTON was elected president of the National Rifle Association, and the national media promptly unloosed a cannonade of antigun, antigun-owner rhetoric.
The New York Times rolled out an editorial slamming Senate majority leader Trent Lott for having "marched to the NRA convention and vowed to oppose any effort to tighten gun-control laws." The Washington Post harrumphed that Heston and the NRA "dismiss even the most reasonable proposals" for more gun control, such as "banning the purchase by one person of more than one handgun a month."
Making the rounds of the morning TV shows, Heston was grilled at each stop for his failure to hold the enlightened opinion that guns are evil. Katie Couric's questions and colloquy on the NBC show "Today" were typical:
"As you well know ... there has been a spate of school shootings recently.... Given the fact that these seem to be happening with greater frequency, has it caused you to rethink your philosophy about children and guns and the accessibility of guns for children?"
"But, Mr. Heston, don't you think that if children are deeply disturbed, there might be another way for them to deal with conflict if guns were not so readily available to them?"
"Getting back to kids and guns, if you will indulge me for a moment - you cannot think of any other position the NRA could take in terms of trying to decrease the number of school shootings? You feel like this is not your bailiwick, this is not your problem?"
Heston: "Not at all. As I told you the NRA spends more money, more time ..."
Couric (interrupting): "Other than education."
Heston: "What would you suggest?"
Couric: "I don't know, perhaps greater restrictions."
It is tough to say which is odder -- the media's conviction, against all evidence and logic, that "greater restrictions" on gun ownership will protect the public from armed criminals, or their serene belief that most Americans agree with them.
Would more and stricter gun control laws have an impact? Absolutely -- on people who obey laws. But they aren't the people who commit drive-by shootings, rape women at gunpoint, or hold up convenience stores. Those people will get firearms no matter how stiff the laws are. They'll steal them, buy them on the street, transport them illegally across state lines. Violent felons will always have weapons. The question is whether honest citizens -- read: potential victims -- will. The one thing more gun control ensures is less protection for the innocent. Which explains why cities with hyper-stringent gun regulations are often hyper-deadly as well.
How does Big Media, with all the money it spends on survey research, manage to keep missing the fact that its implacable antigun stance is shared by only a fringe of the American mainstream? There are guns in half the households in this country. Civilians own more than 220 million firearms. One-third of those are handguns. Unlike Katie Couric and The Washington Post editorialists, Americans don't demonize gun owners. They are gun owners.
Americans don't demonize the NRA, either. In April 1997, the respected John Zogby polling firm put this question to a national sample of voters: "If the National Rifle Association were to tell you that a candidate for Congress was going to work to take away your right to own a gun, would that make you more likely or less likely to support that candidate?" Result: 18.5 percent more likely, 48.4 percent less likely. Even among Democrats, 44.6 percent would be less likely to vote for a candidate the NRA disapproved of.
Here's why: Guns make us safer.
As gun ownership rises, violent crime drops. The more likely that a victim may be armed, the less likely that he -- or she -- will be attacked. And when victims are attacked, guns tilt the odds in their favor. Government data show that women who don't resist when confronted by an attacker end up seriously hurt 2.5 times more often than women who resist with a gun. For men, it's 1.4 times more often.
In an exhaustive marathon of research, University of Chicago Law School professor John Lott and economist David Mustard analyzed FBI crime records from all 3,054 US counties over a 19-year period (1977-1995). Nothing, they found, had a more decisive impact in lowering violent crime rates than the adoption of "shall-issue" laws -- i.e., laws giving adults with no criminal record the right to carry concealed handguns.
Such laws are now in force in 31 states. "Our most conservative estimates," writes Lott, "show that by adopting shall-issue laws, states reduced murders by 8.5 percent, rapes by 5 percent, aggravated assaults by 7 percent, and robbery by 3 percent." The effect is especially pronounced in big cities. "In counties with populations of more than 200,000, concealed-handgun laws produced an average drop in murder rates of more than 13 percent."
Lott and Mustard used multiple-regression checks to correct their data for arrest and conviction rates, for prison sentences, and for new gun-control laws. The results were unambiguous: More concealed handguns, and increased gun ownership generally, drives down murder, robbery, and aggravated assault.
Lott has detailed his findings in a new book, More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press). The title tells the story. Somebody send Katie Couric a copy, please.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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