Why Attacks Changed Gun Attitudes

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The
way that Americans feel about guns has undergone a sudden and unexpected
change since the attacks of 9-11. Regulatory agencies, gun retailers,
and safety instructors all report a sharp increase in activity.
Many purchasers are women, first-time buyers, and those who previously
held anti-gun views.

Societal
issues normally undergo gradual, pendulum-like swings, but this
one is changing with astounding speed. It took roughly forty years
for the gun control movement to convince a large portion of the
population that guns caused violence and were too dangerous for
ordinary citizens to possess. It has taken less than one year for
the tide to change.

The
most obvious reasons for this rapid transformation are directly
related to the terrorist attacks. For example, the almost unanimous
call for military action makes it seem hypocritical to label guns
as evil instruments when we are asking our military to wield them
on our behalf.

The
fact that the attacks were carried out without a single gun was
a wake-up call to even the most ardent anti-gun activists. While
they were concentrating on the dangers of guns, they ignored the
reality that people with evil intent are the real threat.

Leftist
filmmaker Michael Moore, in the process of finishing an anti-gun
documentary, made this
dramatic statement
that probably expresses the feelings of many
at his end of the political spectrum:

"This
started out as a documentary on gun violence in America, but the
largest mass murder in our history was just committed – without the
use of a single gun! Not a single bullet fired!… I can't stop
thinking about this. A thousand gun control laws would not have
prevented this massacre. What am I doing?"

I
believe this widespread attitude adjustment would have been impossible
if not for the results of the last presidential election. Political
analysts declared that support for tougher gun control laws lost
the election for Al Gore. Although this is probably an exaggeration,
Democratic politicians fled from the issue as if it were the kiss
of death.

Liberal
voters were free to rethink their position on guns without feeling
disloyal to their party. They began to notice the failure of gun
control laws and "gun free zones" in other countries,
as well as in various states and cities. They started reading articles
by Prof. John Lott, author of More
Guns, Less Crime
. Doubts developed about the politically
correct view of gun ownership. These doubts suddenly fit in with
the new picture created on 9-11.

As
soon as details of the boxcutter hijackings became public, millions
of people shared a single thought. These attacks never would have
succeeded if a single person with a handgun and a cool head had
been in the right place at the right time.

The
ease with which terrorists eluded our security measures made us
all aware of how vulnerable we are. Terrorists have the luxury of
striking at a time and place of their choosing, while we must defend
all possible targets at all times.

The
next attack could easily disable large sections of the electric
power grid, resulting in extended blackouts and a breakdown in social
order.

Today's
neophyte gun buyers are probably less concerned with fighting terrorists
than with a scenario similar to the last round of riots in Los Angeles
during which police abandoned large areas of the city. In the resulting
rush to local gun stores, many were dismayed at the long waiting
period required before they could take delivery of a firearm that
would allow them to protect their families.

The
anti-gun lobby would like us to believe that new gun buyers are
acting out of blind fear, but most are undergoing a sober and thoughtful
re-evaluation that began prior to the attacks. Before 9-11, many
people were still in denial about their own vulnerability to danger.
It was easy to believe that we could always dial 911 and instantly
summon armed officers to our rescue.

The
lesson that many Americans have taken from this experience is that
we should each take more responsibility for our own safety. Seeing
so many innocent lives snuffed out without warning has injected
a harsh dose of reality and relieved us of some of our idealistic
innocence.

October
19, 2001

Dr.
Michael S. Brown (send him mail)
is a member of Doctors for Sensible
Gun Laws
.

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