Firearms and the 2nd AmendmentLiberty Project Presentation(FINAL)
A. Guns Facts
100 million Americans legally own and use firearms responsibly. Estimates suggest more than 300 million firearms are privately owned in America today. Approximately 2.5 million cases on average are reported each year where lawfully armed citizens save lives and foil crimes(1). By contrast, 30 thousand firearms related deaths in America are reported each year, of which 11 thousand of these are homicides and the balance are suicides or accidental shootings(2). The Federal Government also reports that the vast majority of the firearm-homicides occur in inner-city urban America where the strictest gun-laws in the country exist. The government has identified the principle causes of firearm-homicides: high recidivism rate, drug trafficking, inner-city drug cartel infiltration and urban street gang-violence(2). From 1980 to 2012, the victims of mass murders in schools compiled over 32 years including Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, total 297(3). “The Gun Free School Zone Act,” a Federal gun-ban was enacted in 1994. Sandy Hook was also under the 1993 Connecticut “Assault Weapons Ban.”
B. Gun Politics
The politics surrounding firearms in America is divisive and dishonest. The debate is nearly always about the “gun,” with far less attention paid to how best to stop criminal-violence or even the failures in mental health care. This debate has been driven by a political agenda that advocates for more restrictions of guns and gun ownership in America but is not dedicated to eradicating criminal behavior. Sadly the rhetorical attacks on lawful gun owners seem to intentionally blur the distinction between criminals and law-abiding citizens despite the fact one third of the citizens of the United States own firearms legally and use them responsibly. When evaluating the statistics surrounding firearms use compared to deaths due to firearms, you quickly see the enormous disparity between the safety records of the overwhelming number of lawful gun owners and lives saved verses the much fewer gun deaths due to criminal or irresponsible behavior. In the contentious gun control debate, we are always forced to accept more restrictive gun laws as an “obligation of society” due to the heinous acts of the very few even though these would infringe on the liberties of the overwhelming majority of responsible Americans. Over the decades the cry for gun control has spawned what is now an anti-gun activist industry. It is made up of numerous well organized and well funded political organizations like the Brady Campaign, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now re-invented as Every Town for Gun Safety), Violence Policy Center, The Joyce Foundation, Freedom State Alliance, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Moms Demanding Action, Media Matters, Moveon.org, to name but a few. Locally in Rhode Island, there is the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence, the Institute For the Practice of Non violence and various chapters of national anti-gun groups. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA), the arch nemesis of the anti-gun coalition, has become the principle villain of the anti-gun industry, the organization is the oldest American institution dedicated to defending gun-rights and liberty. It was established following the Civil War in part to arm and train freed slaves to defend their lives and liberty against lingering pro-slavery factions. Today, with the exception of NRA-ILA which is the lobbying arm, the bulk of the NRA organization, is dedicated to education, promoting the shooting sports and teaching firearms safety. Other pro-gun groups such as the Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights are organized as well and unlike their anti-gun opponents, direct their lobbying efforts primarily at the legislatures. There is a media bias against guns. It is rampant and dramatically one sided favoring gun control. The media doesn’t necessarily mislead intentionally, although there has been those cases, it is the deception by omission that much of the media is guilty of. Those in the media who hold an anti-gun bias down play or omit positive stories of lives saved by armed citizens but devote a grossly disproportionate amount of air time to stories like Sandy Hook or sensational and racially charged cases like Zimmerman vs. Martin (local media does a better job of reporting stories where armed citizens prevail). The practice of selective reporting is nothing new. A recent example is in the gross underreporting of the crimes of the knockout games and of black on white violence. Another tactic typical of the anti-gun industry is to present data out of context for dramatic effect. For example, they would proclaim: “more children have been murdered by guns in America than US soldiers killed in the Viet-Nam War” (80 thousand children vs. 50 thousand soldiers). What they don’t tell us is that this number was compiled over 35 years and the fact that, overwhelmingly, these children died in inner-city criminal-violence. The anti-gun coalition routinely exploits the deaths of children from what they call “gun-violence,” a term they created to implicitly suggest, “guns-equal-violence.” When you put actual data into context, however, the true picture emerges. For example, anti-gun activists would say, “guns in homes cause an unacceptably high rate of accidental deaths among children” but they provide no context or comparison to other much greater risks. In 2010, the CDC reported the annual number of deaths with children under the age of ten, 602 died of accidental drowning; 262 died by accidental home fires and 36 from accidental shootings. They would also say, “firearms deaths among children are higher than the rate of cancer deaths.” First of all, children have the least mortality rate due to cancer, so that statement is intended to mislead. Secondly, they ignore the deaths among children resulting from sports injuries which overwhelmingly overshadow those by firearms. For example, twice as many children die from football injuries alone than from firearms(8). The routine hyperbolic rhetoric intended to instill fear, coupled with half-truths and manipulation appears to be the anti-gun coalitions’ playbook of choice. In fact anti-gun groups employ professional marketing and public relations firms to create campaigns that implicitly shape public opinion by selling the notion that “guns are evil” (regardless of the user) and that they are deadly instruments to be feared, reviled and thus they must be targeted for restriction or be banned. It has been exposed that the anti-gun coalition has created just such a handbook, “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging”(5) (produced by Bloomberg et al). It has been widely distributed nationally as a standard for the anti-gun industry to deliver a uniform and highly scripted message across America. This handbook stresses, among its many techniques and talking points, the need to never talk about the facts and the law, “Always focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence, not the political food fight in Washington or wonky statistics.”(4) You are to focus instead on the emotional message about the carnage that guns cause. The effects of years of anti-gun campaigns, has put “guns” on trial in the court of public opinion. This has resulted in America’s culture being transformed from a “John Wayne’s America” which believes in self-reliance and individual responsibility to a “Sean Penn’s America” which does not accept personal responsibility and one with contempt for the Constitutional freedoms of their fellow citizens. The cultural biases and dishonest discourse has manifested for example in the absurd and hyperbolic reactions of school officials when our children bite a Pop Tart into the shape of a pistol.
C. Gun Debate vs. Public Safety
The fact that the gun debate is disingenuous can be surmised by examining the numbers and the facts in their proper context comparing all issues relating to public safety. What the debate really ought to be about is saving lives. Perhaps the biggest victim in the entire gun debate is public safety. What we should be having is an honest and productive dialog about how we may optimize public safety and address the litany of issues that contribute to undermining the safety, peace and prosperity of our communities. Sadly the valuable “oxygen” continues to be consumed by the debate that targets only the gun. The government knows where the violence occurs overwhelmingly, and who’s doing the killing yet we are distracted from addressing the out of control recidivism rate (85% in Rhode Island(5)); reforming our criminal justice system; targeting the criminal drug trafficking and gang violence that hold our urban communities hostage; eradicating the desperate poverty that fuels criminal-violence; bringing hope and opportunity to families in those neighborhoods; enacting educational reform particularly for children in these communities; unshackling the healthcare professionals to address mental health concerns; and enforcing current laws already on the books. Unless we address all of those issues, debating gun control wastes valuable time, squanders our resources and continues to be a deadly distraction.
D. The Philosophical Divide
The anti-gun advocates want a utopian “violence-free” society and to them it must be “gun-free.” They view the lawful gun owners, sportsmen and women as being the obstacle to that utopia because of the American “gun culture” which must be dismantled. This is insulting because clearly all law-abiding citizens want safe communities. The trouble is the anti-gun coalition has hijacked the narrative and made the issue of violence in our society all about “guns.” Most Americans, however, do not share that point of view because they believe that in order to have a society where its citizens are free and our civil liberties preserved under the Constitution, the “violence-free society” is a fantasy and is utterly unattainable. The proof is in the failures of nations that have imposed all out gun bans like Great Britain and Australia(7). Their respective crime rates and violence with guns have soared instead. Conversely, in Switzerland, all citizens are mandated by law to possess firearms both for crime deterrence and for their national security. Not surprisingly, Switzerland has the lowest crime and murder rate in the world. Another point in the gun debate that is rarely discussed is the overt discrimination against lawful firearms owner and the willingness to infringe on their civil liberties. Let’s use for example the recent cases involving the random crimes of the knockout games where innocent victims have been killed from these vicious assaults. Of the cases reported, in most if not all of them, the attackers were young blacks ages 14 to 24. So, imagine calling for the passage of legislation that would restrict the civil-liberties of all black youths ages 14 to 24 based on the reprehensible acts of the very few. Of course that would be completely outrageous, but that is exactly what anti-gun proponents are pushing for when they target firearms and lawful gun owners. Despite the fact that overwhelmingly the majority of firearm owners are law-abiding, they overtly and openly call for the discriminatory and the unconstitutional restrictions of the rights of lawful citizens because of the criminal acts of the very few. Because the anti-gun establishment targets guns, they will never be satisfied until they ban all guns and that is why the war of words is so divisive and dishonest because they always hide their true intent. Responsible gun owners believe in personal responsibility (that goes beyond guns); they know firearms safety better than anyone because they live by the “safety is number one” golden rule. Their opponents do not believe lawfully armed citizens can be trusted and there in lies the rub! Anti-gun advocates believe we must “collectively” sacrifice our civil liberties to ensure a “violence-free society.” The truth is, they want lawful gun-owners to give up guns and civil-liberties so they could “feel” safer and be able to say they’re doing something about it. But that’s only an illusion because every time more gun laws pass they only burden law-abiding citizens and not the criminals. What’s worse than criminals not obeying laws, is the fact restrictions that burden law-abiding citizens actually has the opposite effect. Instead of protecting innocent people, gun-control empower the criminal. In fact, more gun-laws actually result in more deaths(6).The question that needs to be asked is: “Would you cut the antlers off a deer to protect him from a pack of attacking wolves?” Of course not! “Then what makes you think by disarming innocent citizens you could protect them from predatory violent criminals?” Why anti-gun proponents do not get the fact that criminals fear an armed citizen is absurd and utterly baffling unless there is a nefarious motive behind the agenda. The anti-gun establishment operates on the premise of a “collectivist” ideal where the “collective-welfare” supersedes the rights of the individual. The proof of that assertion is the Supreme Court ruling in the 2008 case: “District of Columbia v. Heller.” The court ruled against the plaintiff’s assertion that Heller’s right under the 2nd Amendment may be restricted because the government may effectively render the 2nd Amendment extinct. The plaintiff’s position suggests that the collective-welfare of the city superseded Heller’s individual right to keep and bear arms. The ruling reaffirmed a basic principles upon which the United States was founded, which is the rights of the individual must be protected against the will of the majority and that 2nd Amendment can not be rendered extinct based on policy or government edict because it is not a right “granted” by government. The Heller ruling exposed a philosophical divide between the belief that the US Constitution was intended to defend and preserve individual liberty verses those who aim to undermine those rights and reinterpret our founding document to permit the tyranny of the “collective.”
E. The Bill of Rights and RI Gun Laws
Unfortunately for the anti-gun industry there is a pesky document called the United State Constitution. The Bill of Rights has ten Amendments which were “codified” into and not “granted” by the US Constitution. That distinction is critically important to American liberty, because the Founders noted that the rights described in the Bill of Rights do not come from government but rather are granted by God. The Founders believed these are natural-rights every human being possess that pre-date America’s founding. That’s why these rights were “codified” into the Constitution and are not negotiable. Fast forward to the anti-gun debate today that suggest “restrictions of firearms are necessary adjustments because we live in a very different modern day America than when she was founded.” This argument is a ruse and a deliberate tactic to undermine the original intent of America’s founding document. Rhode Island’s own constitution is even more explicitly unequivocal about the rights of its citizens to keep and bear arms. Article I, Section 22 states: “Right to bear arms.~ The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” RI General Law 11-47-11 obligates the issuing authorities in each town and municipality to “shall” issue conceal and carry permits to citizens who apply for permits provided they are not felons or a threat to society. Sadly, this law is openly violated by the various towns and municipalities (notably the Exeter controversy) entirely due to a political bias against lawful carry of firearms for personal protection.
1 NW University Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Gary Kleck & Marc Gertz
2 CDC, FBI, USDOJ, NIJ
3 State.com (interactive chart of every school shooting)
4 Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging, O’Brien, OMP; Neffinger & Kohut, KNP; Quinlan, GQRR
5 Rhode Island Alliance for Safe Communities
6 Harvard study, “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” Kates & Mauser
8 Frederick O. Mueller, Annual Survey of Football Injury Research: 1931-2001, Nat. Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research