It didn’t take long for anti-gun-control folks to start suggesting that the murder of nine people in a church Bible study could have been prevented if one of the victims had been carrying a weapon. It’s a popular notion even among those who should know better.
National Rifle Association board member Tom Cotton even went so far as to suggest that Emanuel AME pastor and state Senator Clementa Pinckney’s 2011 vote against legislation that would have allowed concealed possession of handguns in restaurants, day-care centers and churches, may have sealed the fate of the nine slain in Charleston.
“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead,” Cotton wrote on an online forum.
Setting aside the insensitivity of Cotton’s comment (which has since been deleted after prompting a storm of disgust), is there any evidence that more lenient gun laws would reduce gun massacres in the U.S.?
The answer is, no.
The NRA and gun-control opponents have long pointed to a 1998 book titled “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws,” as providing evidence that a better-armed America is a safer America.
That book, written by economists John Lott and David Mustard, indicated that crime decreased in states and counties that adopted right-to-carry laws.
But that book’s statistical methodologies have been called into serious question since 2004, when a committee of the National Research Council of the National Academies published “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” which specifically addressed the book by Lott and Mustard, concluding that “No link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime is apparent in the raw data….”
Moreover, research published by Stanford University in 2014 indicated that the conclusions of the 1998 book were completely wrong.
That study, conducted and written by Stanford law Professor John J. Donohue III, extended the data trends used in the 1998 book through 2010 and found no evidence that right-to-carry laws were reducing crime. In fact, “The totality of the evidence based on educated judgments about the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates (of violent crime),” professor Donohue wrote.
For a lot of us, statistical research like this is extremely unsatisfying.
In the wake of atrocities, we somehow become more drawn to less rational commentary, such as that of Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, who said this after 20 (TWENTY!!) 6-year-old children were gunned down in their first-grade classrooms:
“I wish to God she [principal Dawn L. Hochsprung] had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
I, too, wish someone had been able to stop that horrible massacre of children in Newtown, Conn. But, having undergone extensive weapons training in the U.S. Air Force, I was rather incredulous that Gohmert believed a 47-year-old elementary school principal should be able to respond to a scene of screaming chaos by neatly executing a tactical takedown of a gunman.
We have to excuse Gohmert’s dim understanding of the special skills and mettle required to effectively defend against a military-assault-style attack. Gohmert spent the entirety of his military service working in law offices.
But, if he were to give it some real thought, he might realize that our police and military forces depend on hundreds and thousands of hours of rigorous training to help them respond calmly and effectively to life-threatening events. There is nothing easy about it. Quite the contrary, even with extensive training, mistakes can and do happen.
Even with the rigorous training of an all-volunteer army, incidences of ‘friendly fire’ have steadily increased, not decreased, thanks to the increasingly lethal weapons with which these men and women must work.
The fact is that gun play in the movies is just that. Play. In real life, it’s damned difficult to respond to chaos by making a gun do exactly what you want it to do. Sometimes, it’s damned difficult even when no chaos is involved.
In 2014, Charles Vacca, a certified gun instructor with decades of training, was killed while working at a Las Vegas rifle range.
Incredibly, Mr. Vacca was shot in the head while assisting a 9-year-old girl whose father had paid $200 so that she could experience what it is like to shoot an Uzi machine gun.
If you think this is just one of those bizarre occurrences, type “gun instructor shoots self” into a Google search. You’ll find that it’s not rare for even expert gun handlers to make mistakes. We’re human. We aren’t action heroes.
I don’t want gun bans. I want sensible gun laws.
Instead of pretending we are a nation of Bruce Willises in Die Hard, we should start thinking seriously about gun safety in our own homes, and we should, as a nation, take at least minimal precautions to keep powerful guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people.