• 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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