New Perspectives on Gun Control

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The
gun control debate has been forced off center stage in the aftermath
of the 2000 election and the 9-11 terrorist attacks. This is an
excellent time to take a deep breath and see what can be learned
from the experience of the last decade.

The
public dispute over the role of guns in society reached a shrill
peak during the decade from 1990 to 2000. Most arguments took the
form of slurs and slogans hurled across the airwaves by loyal troops
on both sides. But for those who prefer a more thoughtful analysis,
this intense period of cultural warfare also produced an unprecedented
flood of books on the subject.

At
the ideological extremes are books that blatantly appeal to the
emotions, like Josh Sugarmann's Every
Handgun is Aimed at You
and books that falsify historical
research like Arming
America – Origins of a National Gun Culture
by Michael
Bellesiles.

More
scholarly and ethical authors produced excellent works like To
Keep and Bear Arms
, a look at the history behind the second
amendment by historian Joyce Lee Malcolm. Many readers also enjoyed
The
Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy
by David B. Kopel,
which discussed the cultural differences that affect national views
of gun ownership.

My
favorite topic is the fascinating nature of the debate itself and
by coincidence a new book has just appeared that looks back at the
many strange and interesting facets of the public gun control debate.

Criminology
professor Gary Kleck and attorney Don B. Kates collaborated to produce

Armed – New Perspectives on Gun Control
from Prometheus
Books. They are known for their criticism of extremist rhetoric
on both sides of the issue as well as their insistence on honesty
and respect for scientific principles in analyzing the role of guns
in society. They both make a point of saying that some types of
gun control may be appropriate.

The
book contains chapters on all the important topics. Kates begins
with an excellent review of the role played by doctors and medical
publications. He demolishes the fake studies and exposes the hijacking
of medical research to support a political agenda. Numerous quotes
document the often ludicrous claims of anti-gun "researchers"
and the blatant censorship of information by medical journals. His
use of the term, "overt mendacity" is a polite way of
saying that the anti-gun doctors simply lied.

Kleck
writes the chapter on media bias, which offers a more complete analysis
of this phenomenon than I have previously seen. He explores the
various ways in which reporters develop their deliberate anti-gun
bias and how unintentional bias creeps into the system.

One
particularly chilling piece of evidence is a 1989 letter from the
editorial offices of Time magazine to a reader who complained
about their anti-gun bias.

The
letter claimed that "the time for opinions on the dangers of
gun availability is long since gone." Apparently, all the editors
at Time agreed that it was time to get rid of the guns, which relieved
them of any responsibility to provide balanced coverage of the issue.

Kates
explains how the anti-gun lobby "poisoned the well" by
demonizing gun owners, apparently oblivious to the fact that they
were insulting roughly half of the adult population. These foolish
attacks on the character of gun owners were exploited by gun rights
groups to create a powerful backlash against the anti-gun movement.
Pro-gun organizations found this so helpful that they reportedly
purchased the rights to reprint cartoons that were created to denigrate
gun owners.

Another
major mistake of the gun control groups was their failure to coordinate
public statements on their eventual goal. Kleck offers a long series
of quotes from anti-gun leaders proclaiming their intent to completely
ban handguns, and in some cases all guns. Even when those goals
were later denied, the public was left with a perception of anti-gun
organizations as extremists who could not be trusted. Although most
Americans support some sort of "reasonable" gun control
laws, very few agree with the radical aims of anti-gun organizations.

Professor
Kleck is arguably the nation's foremost authority on the statistical
analysis of defensive firearms use. His chapters on the frequency
of defensive gun use and the effectiveness of guns for self protection
nicely summarize the latest research.

Armed
– New Perspectives on Gun Control would be excellent reading
for politicians, journalists, teachers and anyone with an interest
in this issue. I particularly value it for the numerous footnotes
that provide documentation for future discussions and the wonderful
collection of radical anti-gun quotes.

Anyone
who is interested in the truth about gun control should buy a copy.
When finished, they should send it to someone who needs to be educated.

November
21, 2001

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

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