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WHEN AN ARSONIST lights a match that burns a building, is the match at fault? Are match manufacturers responsible for the fire? Should laws be passed prohibiting you from having and using matches, or restricting which types you can have, and in what quantities?

The obvious answer to these questions is no. The same match that is misused by the arsonist lights the fireplace that warms us, and the stove that feeds us. The match has no mind of its own. It is not an evil invention. Its purpose is to ignite, nothing more. If it is misused, the solution is to punish the individual wrongdoer. Everyone else should be left alone.

The same is true of firearms.

Firearms are employed every day by police, military, and law-abiding private citizens to deter crime, participate in competitions, hunt, and in the gravest extreme, to save the life of a victim of murder, rape, or serious assault. Most often, the mere presence of a firearm is enough to stop criminal activity in its tracks.

To the woman whose clothes are about to be torn from her body by a knife-wielding rapist in a deserted parking lot, a handgun in the purse is a lifeline. It is a genuine equalizer that may mean the difference between her life and her death. It gives her a chance when she otherwise would have none.

Every police officer who has made an arrest or stopped a crime understands this principle. Every soldier who has known battle understands this as well. And every private citizen who has ever faced a violent criminal alone, and knows the feeling of an impending, untimely death at the hands of a merciless savage, understands the importance of being able to own and carry a firearm, whether or not he or she ever has to fire it.

Guns Stop Crime

Criminologists of all political persuasions, in over a dozen studies, estimate that firearms are used for protection against criminals several hundred thousand to 2.5 million times per year, often without a shot fired. This is a staggering statistic, but it's not one you are likely to hear on the evening news. Why is it that you don't hear about the homeowner who defended his family before the police could arrive; or the shopkeeper who saved his own life and the lives of his customers; or the woman who stopped her own rape and murder; or the teacher who stopped the school shooting?

Yet when a single criminal goes on a tragic rampage, that's ALL you hear about, over and over and over again, along with angry cries to ban firearms.  Why?

Media Bias

A recent study by the media watchdog Media Research Center (Alexandria, Virginia) concluded that media coverage of firearms is overwhelmingly biased to the negative, noting that between 1995 and 1999, television networks collectively aired 514 anti-gun stories, to a mere 46 that were pro-firearm, a ratio of more than 11-to-1 against firearms.

Unfortunately, we are only being told one side of the story. When we hear only one side, we assume that what we are told is all there is to know, and we do not inquire further. Biased media coverage controls public opinion by controlling public perception.

We have been conditioned to associate gun ownership with criminal activity, when in fact the opposite is true. There are nearly 80 million law-abiding gun owners in America, whose use of firearms is entirely for sport and self-defense. For these millions of people, firearms represent safety, security, and recreation. Shooting is even an Olympic sport, and the first medal of the 2000 Summer Olympics was gold, and was won by an American woman in a shooting event.

When a lone criminal misuses a firearm, does that negate the hundreds of thousands of times each year that firearms are used by citizens to prevent crime? Should the misdeed of a single wrongdoer be seized upon as an opportunity to recast all firearms and their law-abiding owners into evil entities to be ostracized, regulated and banished from society? Should you be compelled to turn in your matches because of the acts of an arsonist; or to turn in your steak knife because of the acts of a slasher; or to turn in your car because of the acts of a drunk driver? Of course not.

Crime Control, Not Gun Control

The public outcry for justice after a tragedy is both understandable and correct. But rather than calling for specific justice -- the apprehension and punishment of the particular wrongdoer so severely that future criminals will be effectively deterred -- we have been conditioned to emit an emotional response decrying guns and gun owners, and calling for urgent new regulation in the name of public safety.

This ignores the fact that there are already more than 20,000 gun laws in the United States, and every act perpetrated by the criminal was already in violation of existing law. What makes us think that new laws will have any more influence over the criminal mind than the existing ones?

New laws may make us feel good for the moment, satisfying the emotional need for a sense of justice after a tragedy, but all they really accomplish is to further restrict the rights of those who already follow the law.

Like the arsonist and his match, it is the wrongdoer who must be punished, not the law-abiding owner or manufacturer. Arson was already illegal when the fire was started. What will a new law accomplish, except making it more difficult -- perhaps impossible -- for you to light your fireplace when you need its warmth to stay alive?

Self Defense Hindered

Regulating and banning guns has the effect of disempowering the law-abiding while supplying advantage to the criminal. Try arguing this point with Texas State Representative Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp. In 1991, after leaving a legally owned firearm in her car in compliance with a local “safety” law restricting its carry in certain public places, Suzanna watched helplessly as her parents, along with 21 others, were murdered in a mass shooting at a local restaurant. Suzanna followed the law; the criminal didn't. How might the outcome have been different if the law had not restricted Suzanna’s right to have her firearm with her?

One might ask the same question about every mass shooting or terrorist attack that has occurred in recent memory: how might the outcome have been different if one of the victims had been lawfully armed?

The inescapable answer to this question is that lives would have been saved. This has been demonstrated in many documented incidents, but the mainstream media refuses to report that lawfully armed citizens have stopped killings before police could arrive.

 For example, in 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi, a 16-year-old satanist murdered his ex-girlfriend and wounded seven other students at a high school. As he was leaving to kill more children at a nearby junior high school, the assistant principal retrieved a lawfully owned handgun from his car and held the youth for five minutes until police arrived. Not long after, in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a school rampage ended abruptly when a local merchant lawfully armed with a shotgun convinced the teenage killer to surrender before police could arrive. How many more children would have died if “safety” laws had prevented the assistant principal and the merchant from owning and accessing their firearms?

And how many lives would have been saved on 9/11 had a pilot, an air marshall, or a qualified passenger been lawfully armed?

Gun Ownership Reduces Crime Rates

The surprising truth is that there is a direct connection between lawful ownership and possession of firearms and the reduction of violent crime rates. In his book More Guns, Less Crime, Professor John R. Lott, Jr. (University of Chicago Press) provides the most comprehensive and statistically reliable study of firearms and crime ever conducted, analyzing the relationship between gun ownership and FBI crime statistics for each of the 3,045 counties in America over an 18 year period.

The study’s irrefutable conclusion: crime rates for murder, rape and robbery drop six to ten percent, and are sustained at reduced rates, when and where law-abiding adult citizens are permitted to carry concealed firearms. The reason for this is obvious: some criminals are deterred when they think that their intended victims may be armed.

This principle is not novel. For several years, the town of Kennesaw, Georgia had an ordinance requiring every resident to keep at least one firearm in the home. As a result, the home burglary rate in Kennesaw fell by over 80%. A similar regulation was recently passed in the town of Virgin, Utah.

Before you conclude that Georgia and Utah are populated by the misguided, consider the nation Switzerland, which actually issues military firearms and ammunition to be kept in the home. Possession of pistols and semi-automatic firearms by civilians is only modestly regulated. The resulting crime rate is surprisingly low – lower, in fact, than the crime rate in Great Britain, where gun control laws are the most restrictive in the western world.

Guns Prevent Oppression

Movements to ban and overregulate firearms and demonize their owners are based on fear and misunderstanding of the role that firearms play in a free society. Private firearms ownership insures personal safety when police are delayed or unavailable, and collective firearms ownership by a population is an insurance policy against government oppression and extreme abuses of power. This is what the men and women who founded America had in mind when they acknowledged the people's right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights, next to the First Amendment.

If you don't think that governments oppress and commit atrocities against their own people, think again. During the 20th century, while Americans were building cars, factories, and shopping malls, at least seven major genocides occurred throughout the world, in which more than 50 million people were exterminated by their own governments (Germany, USSR, Communist China, Cambodia, Uganda, Guatemala, and the Ottoman Empire). Each of these state-run atrocities was preceded by "common sense" gun control, registration, and eventual confiscation by the government, all under the pretext of advancing public safety.

The most well-known example is Nazi Germany. Prior to the murder of 13 million people throughout Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe, a gradual and systematic program of gun control and registration was implemented. Public safety was the stated justification. Once gun owners had been identified through registration, an aggressive gun confiscation program to disarm the population (and in particular, Jewish people) was implemented. As a result, the population was rendered defenseless against the slaughter that followed. Said Hitler in his Edict of March 18, 1938: "The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjected people to carry arms; history shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjected people to carry arms have prepared their own fall."

How might the outcome of the Holocaust and other government-organized genocides have been different if the victims had not first been disarmed under the pretext of public safety?

Even the great pacifist leader Mahatma Ghandi comprehended the significance of a population's right to be armed. Said Ghandi in an autobiography: "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest."

Guns Save Lives

The bottom line is that firearms stop crimes, prevent oppression, and save lives. Like any tool or instrument, they can also be misused. The solution is not to restrict or eliminate the tool in general, but rather to punish and banish the specific misuser. Restriction or elimination of the tool creates the mere illusion of justice while depriving everyone else of its undeniable benefits. 

—Scott L. Bach
   (Publication Pending)