Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, May 21, 2007

Some People Love Guns

Why Should the Rest of Us Be Targets?

by Jonathan Safran Foer (April 22 2007)

Knives also cut bread and carve wood and aid surgery, but guns only shoot bullets. That's what they are designed to do, and that's what they do. When we talk about protecting our right to have guns, we are talking about protecting our right to shoot bullets. So what is it that's so important to shoot at?

The principal defense of guns is constitutional. The Second Amendment ensures that "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed". It's used as the final authority, to be deferred to even if not agreed with or understood. But the Constitution isn't the Bible. (The Second Amendment, being an amendment, is a testament to the Constitution's ability to correct itself.) The Founding Fathers were neither infallible nor divine. And times change.

Does anyone any longer believe that a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free state? Why do those who fall back on the constitutional defense so often avoid the terms "militia" and "state"? And why, after the massacre at Virginia Tech - hours after - did Senator John McCain proclaim, "I do believe in the constitutional right that everyone has, in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to carry a weapon"? Just what is it, precisely, that he believes in? Is it the Constitution itself? (But surely he thinks it was wise to change the Constitution to abolish slavery, give women the vote, end Prohibition and so on?) Or is it the guns themselves that he believes in? It would be refreshing to have a politician try to defend guns without any reference to the Second Amendment, but on the merits of guns. What if, hours after the killings, McCain had stood at the podium and said instead, "Guns are good because ..." But what would have followed?

Guns are good because they provide the ultimate self-defense? While I'm sure some people believe that having a gun at their bedside will make them safer, they are wrong. This is not my opinion, and it's not a political or controversial statement. It is a fact. Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Guns on the street make us less safe. For every justifiable handgun homicide, there are more than fifty handgun murders, according to the FBI. The expanding right to carry concealed guns make us even less safe. So what right is being protected if it is not the right to be safe? The right to feel safe, at the expense of actual safety?

Or perhaps guns are good because they facilitate hunting? It's a constitutional red herring, but no coincidence or surprise, that the National Rifle Association is so closely aligned with hunters - they are the group's most powerful contingent. Let's just assume, for a moment, that hunting is good. Really, really good. (It must be, if militias and self-defense don't explain guns.) How many of the nearly 3,000 children who are killed by firearms in the United States each year does the good of hunting justify? All of them? A handful? How many of the students and faculty at Virginia Tech? And what's so good about hunting, anyway?

It's rarely talked about, but hunting for sport is just about as vile as we humans get. In the words of former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, "Most wicked deeds are done because the doer proposes some good to himself ... [but] the killer for sport has no such comprehensible motive. He prefers death to life, darkness to light. He gets nothing except the satisfaction of saying, 'Something that wanted to live is dead'." If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well. (Imagine hunting cameras that looked and felt like guns.) But something else is going on. Something that sounds as bad as it is. Hunters love death. Can someone explain to me why that's acceptable, or why that love of death should be more important than the safety of the 94 percent of us who don't have hunting licenses and don't hunt?

In 2004, more preschoolers than law enforcement officers were killed by firearms, according to the Children's Defense Fund. The number of children killed by guns in the United States each year is about three times greater than the number of servicemen and women killed annually in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, more children - children - have been killed by guns in the past 25 years than the total number of American fatalities in all wars of the past five decades. It's possible that the upcoming election will be decided by the war in Iraq. But what about the far deadlier war at home?


Jonathan Safran Foer, a Washington native, is the author of two novels, Everything Is Illuminated (Harper Perennial, 2003) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Bill Totten


  • If the second amendment is really no longer needed then there is a constitutional process for amending or eliminating it. Gun control advocates shouldn't think that they can simply ignore the second amendment.

    I do believe, as do a lot of people, that an armed citizenry is necessary for a free state. James Madison explains it pretty well in Federalist 46 if you are interested in what one of the drafters of the Constitution had to say on the subject.

    The "43 times" comes from the Kellermann study of 398 gunshot deaths in King County, Washington from 1978 to 1983. If you are interested in where those numbers come from you can go here:

    The study was bogus. For one thing, claiming that you can draw conclusions about the over 300 million citizens based on a study of less than four hundred homes in one county is ridicules. And yet the 43 times "fact" is still being quoted by gun control advocates. If facts support their position, why don't they just stick to the facts?

    If expanding the right to carry concealed weapons does make us less safe then it should be very easy to demonstrate. Do states which allow licensed persons to carry concealed weapons have higher crime rates on average? Do people who are licensed to carry commit more crimes than average citizens? I think that you will find that the answer is no to both questions.

    I must point out that Virginia Tech was a "gun free zone." Unfortunately the fellow who was willing to commit murder was also willing to violate the "gun free zone." Perhaps another law requiring murderers to obey the first law would stop them?

    The number of privately owned firearms has increased dramatically over the years. And yet the firearm related death rates have been falling over the years on average. If the problem was simply the availability of firearms, the rates would be going up, not down.

    "Children" normally refers to pre-adolescents. I normally don't think of gang bangers as being children. Calling everyone less that 21 years of age children is misleading. I think that is where you got your numbers about "children."

    You seem to be saying that the best defense is being defenseless. I just don't agree. I seldom carry a weapon but there are times when do feel the need. Me being armed is a threat only to someone who would try to harm me (or my family).

    Bruce Richardson
    Houston, Texas

    By Blogger cbrtxus, at 2:08 PM, May 21, 2007  

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