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Originally published as 18 Am. For educational use only. The printed edition remains canonical. For citational use please obtain a back issue from William S. Introduction A central issue in the gun control controversy is the degree to which civilian ownership of firearms reduces crime.
Sixty-five years of vehement debate have amply proven the wisdom of an early 20th Century opponent of gun ownership. The other side seeks to outlaw handguns, many would prefer outlawing all guns, dogmatically convinced not just that guns do more harm than good, but that "[i]n the hands of the general public handguns confer virtually no social p.
The purpose of this article is to analyze the empirical evidence, most of which has become available only in the last decade.
Caveats This article is emphatically not an attempt to resolve whether, and to what extent, public policy should circumscribe or allow gun ownership. The second caveat is that the disproportionate attention here given to studies and analyses authored by opponents of gun ownership reflects necessity rather than a bias against gun ownership.
The fact is that the gun lobby has, in effect, defaulted in the academic arena. Significant of all too many aspects of the gun control controversy is that p.
There is, as a consequence, little academic literature from that side of the debate. Definitions The first definitional problem was to find apt shorthand labels for the respective positions of the gun lobby and its opponents. This article uses the terms "pro-gun" and "anti-gun" for the respective polar extremes in the American gun controversy.
It bears emphasis that the "pro-gun" and "anti-gun" positions are extremes--extremes that have, tragically in my view, dominated and drowned out more moderate voices. In fact, polls over the past half century consistently show that most Americans, including a majority of gun owners, are neither pro-gun nor anti-gun but rather "pro-control.
Yet, on the other hand, most Americans also reject the childish pro-gun shibboleth that it is enough to outlaw murder and other violent crime--and thus superfluous to reinforce such laws by sensible, prophylactic controls on weapons that may be used to commit violence.
This article may be described as a self-conscious attempt to apply the moderate pro-control position embraced by most Americans to the claims about the crime reductive value of civilian gun ownership offered by the more extreme sides in the controversy.
The second definitional problem involves distinguishing actual use of a gun to thwart a crime in progress hereinafter described as "defensive-use" from the deterrent effect of victim arms possession in dissuading criminals from attempting a crime at all hereinafter described p.
Though basic, this distinction has only rarely been observed even by criminologists and anti-gun writers, and almost never by pro-gun writers.
It is a crucial distinction because conceptual and practical difficulties make the evidence for deterrence more complex and more ambiguous than for defensive-use. This article will first address defensive-use and then deterrence.
But before either aspect of defensive gun ownership can be analyzed empirically, certain ethical or cultural concerns must be addressed--if only because they have so often intruded into, and more or less subtly obfuscated, purportedly empirical discussions of these issues.
Non-Empirical Moral and Philosophical Considerations In the notoriously extreme bitterness of the gun control debate, some analysts see a clash of cultural and ethical values disguised by the more or less pseudo-criminological terms. This is not to deny that there are real criminological disagreements in the gun debate.
Rather, the proposition is that such disagreements are minor in comparison to the violent cultural and moral antagonism which "the Great American Gun War" cloaks. Colonel Jeff Cooper, perhaps its most eloquent spokesman, claims that: Thus, we must regard them as servants, not masters--and good servants to good men.
Without them, man is diminished, and his opportunities to fulfill his destiny are lessened. An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it. But even fundamental premises are not necessarily immune from rational evaluation. A doubtless apocryphal tale holds that when James Joyce publicly repudiated his Catholicism he was approached by an English reporter who asked him if he would now become a Protestant.
Thus, for instance, the anti-gun response to Cooper's profession of faith is that a gun is simply not an effective defense to criminal attack. It is best to flee if possible, and otherwise to submit. Such action constitutes the only viable form of opposition to robbery, rape, or other acts of violence.
If it proves to be true, Colonel Cooper's faith that guns allow resistance to evil is exposed as contrary to reason. Examination of Some Non-Empirical Elements of Anti-gun Faith Some declarations of anti-gun morality may also be subject to refutation either as contra-factual or as internally inconsistent; a prime instance of internal inconsistency occurs in statements made by the nationally syndicated columnist and cultural historian Garry Wills who feels that "gun fetishists" are at once immoral and unpatriotic "traitors, enemies of their own patria," and "anti-citizens" arming "against their own neighbors.
Thus, I emphasize that the anti-gun concern is not simply pragmatic, such as to deny that gun armed self-defense is effective or to laud the obvious advantages of police assistance when that option is open. Entirely independent of, though often accompanying, such pragmatic concerns is the moral view advanced by some anti-gun advocates that under no circumstances is it ever legitimate to use a gun in defense of self or family.
Of course, if consistently adhered to, Professor Wills' view is as immune from rational dispute as is any other moral belief.
But if one is willing to call on the police to defend one's family with a gun, it is patently inconsistent to condemn the morality of those who are willing to defend their families themselves if the police are unavailable when the need arises.[Related to: Attitude vs. Altitude] I. I write a lot about the importance of IQ research, and I try to debunk pseudoscientific claims that IQ “isn’t real” or “doesn’t matter” or “just shows how well you do on a test”.
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