The atrocities in our schools must be ended.
It is unconscionable that we do not take the actions necessary to save the innocent lives murdered by cold-blooded, gun-slinging psychopaths. There is a way to terminate these campus bloodbaths and to lower the rates of homicide and violent crime generally.
A ban on guns, to the extent they are banned, will lead to more–not fewer–violent and lethally violent assaults on innocent persons. The homicide rate and the rate of violent crime more broadly will go up, not down.
A life-saving necessity is for more honest and trained persons to own guns–especially on school campuses–and to be prepared to deploy them in defense of innocent lives, including their own.
The first part of this essay shows why a legal ban on guns leads inexorably to increased criminal violence, including lethal violence.
The second section explains the means to substantially reduce the incidence of criminal assault, especially in the schools, and thereby save countless innocent lives.
In brief, the first two segments establish the practical case for upholding the right to bear arms. Section three validates the moral right of honest persons to own guns.
The essay concludes with a discussion of a major nation in which gun ownership by honest individuals has been effectively restricted–Great Britain–and the terrible price paid for it by innocent persons.
Part One: The Lethal Consequences of a Legal Ban on Guns
My thesis is this: The more gun control laws we enact on innocent individuals, the higher the incidence of violent crime. Conversely, the more we protect the right of honest persons to own and carry guns, the lower will be the rate of violent, including lethal crime.
The factual evidence supporting this claim is substantial. For example, economist, John Lott, wrote the definitive study of gun ownership and crime, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. In an overview of his painstaking empirical findings, he wrote: “…states experiencing the greatest reduction in crime are…the ones with the fastest growing percentage of gun ownership….Allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns reduces violent crimes, and the reductions coincide very closely with the number of concealed-handgun permits issued….Of all the methods studied so far by economists, the carrying of concealed handguns appears to be the most-cost effective method for reducing crime.”[i]
Lott found that violent crime rates fell in the large majority of states that enacted concealed handgun laws: In Maine, for example, the rate of violent crime fell by 17% and the murder rate by 5%, in Oregon the violent crime rate decreased by 3% and the murder rate by 1%, in West Virginia the numbers were 1% and 11% respectively….and so forth in 80-90% of these states. Further, in the few states where violent crime rates rose, the increase was very slight: In fact, “the largest increases were smaller than the smallest declines in the states where those crime rates fell.[ii]
Such factual data is the indispensable starting point of a proof–but we still need to explain it. What are the causal factor(s) at work here? What are the relevant principles?
Let’s start with a broad range of examples from which we can draw the first of several explanatory principles.
- There are laws banning the sale, ownership, and consumption of numerous “recreational” drugs in this country. How effectively do they prevent customers from procuring such drugs?
- Previously in the U.S., there were laws banning the sale, ownership, and consumption of alcohol. How effectually did they achieve their purpose?
- For centuries, in numerous countries, across several continents, there have existed statutes prohibiting prostitution. Has the “oldest profession” been successfully curtailed?
- Take a hypothetical example: Suppose the U.S. banned the sale, ownership, and consumption of tobacco. Would the results differ from those “achieved” by the prohibitions of alcohol and other drugs?
There is scholarly debate regarding Prohibition’s effectiveness.[iii] Because of the illegality, persons bootlegging alcohol, running speakeasies, or concocting bathtub gin were unlikely to accurately report their activities. Based, therefore, on various forms of proxy data, some scholars believe that alcohol consumption decreased significantly in the country, some believe that it declined for awhile, some believe that it did not decline. While this issue is both fascinating and important, it is irrelevant to our thesis.
For what can be stated with certainty is: For those who both desired and could afford to pay for alcohol, it was not difficult to obtain.
The same is true for other drugs and for paid sexual services. While it is possible that legal prohibition and enforcement diminishes drug use and/or patronage of prostitution, the supply of these goods/services is nevertheless readily available for those who both desire and can afford to purchase them. There is no reason to doubt that a legal ban on tobacco would necessitate the same result.
The first principle, therefore, based on abundant empirical data, is: It is impossible to prevent procurement of x by criminalizing the purchase or ownership of x.
Why is this so? The answer lies in the field of economics–in the basic law of supply and demand.
What economists mean by demand for x is: 1. some people desire x and 2. they have the financial means to buy it. Demand means: desire backed by purchasing power.
Therefore, if x is in demand, then money can be made by supplying it. If x is legal, it will be supplied by honest businessmen. If x is illegal, it will be supplied by gangsters. Either way, x will be supplied.
If x is in demand, then a legal war against it can be expected to fail. (The War on Drugs is a prime example.) Under such circumstances, an attempt to strangle the supply of x is foredoomed.[iv] The only hope is to rationally convince people that x is harmful to them and/or innocent others, and thereby reduce demand for it.
The question for us then is: In the United States, what is the demand for guns?
The number of guns owned in the U.S. is difficult to determine. For various reasons, honest gun-owners may not be willing to acknowledge such ownership. One reason is fear that gun control laws might lead to confiscation of their firearms, which has historically been the case in some countries. Another is that the gun, although intended exclusively for self-defense purposes, is owned illegally, for example, hand guns in some areas. Nevertheless, a very rough estimate made by the Pew Research Center in 2017 is: Four in ten Americans report living in a gun-owning household.[v] According to various polls and estimates based on them, it can be guessed that approximately one in three Americans owns a gun.[vi] This means, at minimum, roughly tens of millions of firearms are owned in this country, probably more.
In Lott’s classic study, he estimated that seventy-five to eighty-six million Americans owned a total of roughly two hundred to two hundred and forty million guns.[vii]
American demand for guns is strong. Indeed, it is so strong that one legitimately wonders whether Americans more strongly desire guns or recreational drugs.
One conclusion is that if guns are banned, gunrunners can make money supplying them in a similar manner to drug dealers profiting via supplying illicit substances.
Two questions emerge: 1. Which segment of the population is most likely to purchase illegal guns from the criminal gangs supplying them? 2. What will be the relationship between and among criminal gangs vying for “larger market share” in the areas where gun sales are most lucrative?
It can be assumed that some honest persons will still purchase guns despite the risk of law-breaking and potential prison terms, because they deem these negatives less onerous than being legally disarmed in the face of possible criminal assault, especially home invasions that threaten their entire families.
But criminals will definitely buy guns from the gangsters selling them. A thug willing, even eager, to perpetrate real crimes–assault, rape, murder, and so forth–and thereby face the stringent legal penalties imposed on those convicted of such heinous offenses, will be deterred by neither the criminalization of guns nor the lesser legal risks associated with it.
As a percentage, therefore, a larger proportion of gun owners will now be criminals; for the legal risks of gun ownership will deter some–perhaps many–honest persons, but not criminals.
What are the predictable results of this? Probably more criminal assaults–and definitely less effective self-defense. The overall result will be more innocent persons physically harmed, maimed, raped, and/or murdered.
Several related results: Violence will increase between criminal gangs competing for market share in areas where gun sales are lucrative. Gun running will be a violent “profession,” as is drug smuggling in our day and as was alcohol bootlegging in the past. The homicide rate will rise, inevitably including innocent persons caught in the cross-fire. Some ungodly percentage of homicides in the United States today surround the illegal drug trafficking; indeed, one economist estimates that eliminating drug prohibition would reduce U.S. homicides by a staggering 25 to 75 percent.[viii] Something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, will occur surrounding the illegal gun trafficking.
Furthermore, imagine that, by divine intervention (which is what it would take), nobody but government agents owned guns–not a single private citizen, honest or dishonest, possessed one. What would then transpire? Criminals, knowing with certainty that their intended victims were disarmed of guns, would be thereby emboldened to strike. Remember that the favored targets of criminals are women, the elderly, and the disarmed generally. Thugs, generally bigger and stronger than their victims, would now strike with knives, hatchets, clubs, and so forth. The criminal justice system, in effect, would thereby protect criminals from the consequences of violent assault.
Many honest persons properly fear home invasion. Today, when it is legal in every state in the country for upright citizens to own a gun for purposes of home protection, criminals must be wary of break-ins when the residents are present. Interviews with convicted felons repeatedly affirm a criminal’s worst fear–not police apprehension but the possibility of being shot by an armed victim.[ix] Remove that deterrent and the likelihood increases of axe-and-or-machete-wielding assailants breaking into occupied homes. And even if I am (hopefully) wrong regarding this belief, the percentage of such invasions ending poorly for the innocent will rise.
Additionally, such an imaginary effective confiscation of guns would not protect us from school mass murders–it would simply change their form. Mass murderers plan out their atrocities in advance–it takes time to get the guns, the ammunition, and so forth. (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine, for example, planned their savage attack for many months.) Given that, what the psychopaths would then do is await a scheduled day that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of persons are outdoors–Commencement perhaps–race their cars or SUVs up onto the lawn, and viciously run down as many unprotected victims as they could. In July, 2016, let us not forget, a jihadist in Nice, France, despite owning guns, used a rented truck to run down hundreds of victims, killing some eighty-six of them.
A psychopath intent on mass murder has a choice of weapons.
Until we, the human race, resolve the more fundamental question of morally teaching our brothers and sisters to reject violence, to repudiate the initiation of force, and to refuse action on any desire to perpetrate mayhem, the life-and-death question is: What is the best form by means of which honest persons may defend themselves and other innocents from violent assault?
The answer, given the technology of our day, is to own a gun, to learn how to use a gun, to take gun safety courses, and to be physically and psychologically prepared to deploy the gun in situations calling for self-defense.
It is understandable that many persons, at an emotional level, fear and loathe guns because of their potential to be used in criminal violence. But, when searching for truth, especially in life-and-death matters, first place in our judgment must be awarded to factual evidence and logical reasoning based thereon.
The reasoning is clear: Guns in the hands of honest, trained persons save innocent lives.
Part Two: How To Prevent School Mass Murders
Two steps are necessary to achieve this.
The first is: We must be willing to spend the money to hire and train more police officers and then have law enforcement officers present every school day on every campus in the country. We need armed and trained police officers, not merely unarmed security guards, in every school.
The second is a policy I refer to as “Designated Defenders,” and which I publicly called for after the Sandy Hook atrocity in December, 2012.
Every school has a cadre of long-time employees–administrators, faculty, staff–who have an extensive track record of upright citizenship. They are in their forties or fifties, they have no criminal record, and so forth. The school and the local police department or sheriff’s office ask for volunteers. The volunteers purchase a handgun suitable for concealed carry and receive training from law enforcement on gun use and safety. The schools announce on every forum–on their websites, on social media, in signs posted ubiquitously and visibly on campus grounds–the presence of such Designated Defenders but not their identity, lest the wanna-be murderers target them first.
Since schools currently are often “gun free zones,” would-be mass murderers know that their killing sprees will face no armed resistance. Consequently, schools become free fire zones for blood-lusting psychopaths. Conversely, convicted American felons often state in interviews that, for example, they avoid home break-ins when residents are present because “that’s the way to get shot.”[x]
We must understand two points: 1. Our schools currently constitute a sizable gun-controlled American community. 2. The enactment of such a gun-controlled culture contributes significantly to the mass murders perpetrated therein.
A policy of Designated Defenders represents an extension of concealed carry rights into our schools. It will prove as effective in that venue as it has in so many states.
Further, imagine there were widespread sports camps in the country, where tens of millions of young persons daily practiced gymnastics, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and so on. Would there be a small number of cold-blooded psychopaths in attendance? Possibly. What if the camps enacted a strict anti-gun culture, so that no coaches, instructors, or administrators could be armed? Would one or more of the psychopaths perpetrate mass murder on the victims they know are legally (or culturally) disarmed? Very possibly.
Culturally disarming the guardians of a large number of persons removes a powerful deterrent to mass murder. It increases the likelihood that the innocent will be transformed into victims.
The enactment of the two above policies–visible police officers and unidentified Designated Defenders–will produce two salutary results: A greater preponderance of prospective killers, knowing they now face armed resistance, will be deterred–and, if they are not, are more likely to be chased off, wounded, or killed before succeeding in murdering large numbers of innocents.
Mass murder is a different undertaking when the victims fire back.
It is true that some of these psychopaths know they will die in the assault, and even take their own lives. But even so, armed defense of the innocent has positive benefits: The murderous rampages will be truncated more quickly, and possibly, the realization of a diminished number of victims might itself act as a deterring factor.
These two policies also protect innocent lives from maniacs using motor vehicles as weapons of mass destruction; for the ability to fire at the perpetrator through windshields and side windows would likely bring the lethal assault to a foreshortened terminus.
Harris and Klebold manufactured homemade bombs and planted them on the Columbine campus–thank God they did not detonate, otherwise the murder count would likely be even higher. But homemade bombs can be terrifyingly destructive, as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols demonstrated in the grisly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that terminated one-hundred-sixty-eight innocent lives. Guns in the hands of honest, trained persons will not protect us from this. But neither will a ban on guns, even could it be effectively enforced.
Part Three: The Moral Right of Honest Persons to Own Guns
To establish a civilized society, all individuals and the state must be morally and legally banned from the initiation of physical force. Force is to be used only in a retaliatory form and only against those who initiate its use. The immense advantage of such a policy is it respects and protects our ability to reason–to understand nature and its laws, to create life-giving advances, and, socially, to rationally negotiate inevitable human disputes.
A ban on the initiation of force, not a ban on guns, is the sole means to definitively expunge criminal violence and school mass murders.
But based on examination of both history and current events, it is tragically clear that we–the human race–are a long way from achieving such a civilized state. Such an accomplishment will require many years, perhaps centuries, of moral education…to convince mankind that each and every individual human being has an inalienable right to his/her own life and body, and that none of us–for any reason–may properly initiate force against others, thereby abrogating that right.
Since a human being has the inalienable right to his/her own life, it follows logically that he possesses the right to defend his life.
It also includes the right to defend the life of his children, for whom he is morally responsible; also to delegate to another the right to defend one’s life, as a woman might to her boyfriend or husband who may be better equipped to do so; also to defend the right to life of any innocent person on the unstated assumption that the victim seeks to exercise his/her right to life free of violent assault.
In our era, generally, what is the most effective means to exercise the right to defend one’s own life and the lives of innocent others? It is by owning a gun, learning how to use a gun, and taking courses in gun safety.
If a human being initiates neither force nor fraud against an innocent victim(s), then he must be left free to live in accordance with his own judgment. This includes the judgment to own a gun.
A gun owned by an honest, trained individual is no more dangerous to the innocent than is the car he owns. Just as, when driving, he scrupulously seeks to avoid harm to other human beings, so, when firing or cleaning the weapon he conscientiously follows the principles of gun safety. This is why tens of millions of guns owned by honest Americans result in zero fatalities.
To legally seize the gun(s) owned by such an upright individual is to initiate governmental force against an innocent person, an instance of the very policy that must be extirpated if human beings are to finally attain a civilized mode of life.
Why, then, is it a moral right of a peaceful person to own a gun? Because his life, and the lives of innocent others, may depend on it.
Part Four: The Baneful Consequences of Legally Banning Guns–Great Britain
Gun control advocates often cite Great Britain as an example of an effective gun ban. In January, 1997, after a deranged killer viciously murdered sixteen Scottish kindergarten children and their teacher in 1996, the government imposed the Firearms Act of 1997 and confiscated all handguns and most rifles. Since then, there have been strict laws against gun ownership in Britain.
More fundamentally than the law, there is a pervasive anti-gun mindset that dominates the thinking of most honest citizens in Britain. Even most police officers do not carry guns and there is virtually no political support for the right of honest persons to own guns. The culture of Great Britain, not just its laws, is generally (and strongly) opposed to gun ownership.
A number of questions arise. To consider two: 1. How effectively do the culture and the laws prevent criminals from procuring guns? 2. What is the rate of violent crime after the January, 1997 ban on guns when compared with the violent crime rate before it? Take them one at a time.
One: Given the above discussion, it is surprising neither that there is a lively traffic in illegal guns in Britain nor that many criminals own them. Richard Poe, in his book, The Seven Myths of Gun Control, recounts some of the violent events in the years following imposition of the Firearms Act of 1997: “A January 13, 2000 article in the Sunday Times of London reported an epidemic of gun crimes in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, fueled by ‘ a steady flow of smuggled guns from eastern Europe’….automatic weapons were ‘fast becoming fashion accessories among young drug dealers’….’The latest figures show crime involving weapons is on the increase…’ The Home Office reported a 10 percent rise in gun crime in 1998. And in 1999-2000, crimes using handguns hit a seven-year high in Britain.”[xi]
Moving forward in time, in 2008, The Guardian, in an article entitled, “Firearms: cheap, easy to get, and on a street near you,” warned of a substantial trafficking in illegal weapons. Speaking of such firearms, a source close to the illegal smuggling told the newspaper: “They’re easy enough to get hold of. You’ll find one in any poverty area, every estate in London, and it’s even easier in Manchester, where there are areas where the police don’t go….In Liverpool docks, you can put in an order for 10 guns and some grenades and they’ll say OK and two weeks later, they will be there…”[xii]
Still later, a British researcher in June, 2016, writing of gun smuggling, stated: “The trade across Europe’s porous borders remains a problem for European police forces.” She added insightfully: “Without a doubt, as long as there remains a demand for firearms in Britain, the criminal underworld will use all of its ingenuity to meet that demand…”[xiii]
The overwhelming majority of honest persons in Great Britain not only do not own guns, they do not want to own guns. Police officers generally do not carry guns, a policy backed by broad popular support. But many criminals own guns.
This is not a great recipe for protecting innocent persons
It is important to note that the combination of anti-gun culture and anti-gun laws is insufficient to suppress criminal demand for guns.
Two: The results were predictable. Homicide rates began rising: “After the ban, clearly homicide rates bounce around over time, but there is only one year (2010) where the homicide rate is lower than it was in 1996. The immediate effect was about a 50 percent increase in homicide rates. Firearm homicide rates had almost doubled between 1996 and 2002. The homicide and firearm homicide rates only began falling when there was a large increase in the number of police officers during 2003 and 2004. Despite the huge increase in the number of police, the murder rate still remained slightly higher than the immediate pre-ban rate.”[xiv]
Related: There is a severe problem with possession of and assaults with knives in Great Britain. According to the tabloid newspaper, The Sun, there were 37,443 recorded knife offences in Britain in the year leading up to September, 2017; London, with its massive population, headed the list with 12,980 such offenses.[xv] The Sun is a sensationalistic scandal sheet which, perhaps, is not always a reliable source of information. However, in April, 2017, The Guardian, based on official police statistics, reported a 13-14% increase in gun and knife crimes for 2016.[xvi] Similarly, the BBC reported: “Gun crime offences surged by 42% in the last year, according to official statistics. The Met Police’s figures showed that there were 2,544 gun crimes from April 2016 to April 2017….Knife crime also increased by 24% with 12,074 offences from 2016 to 2017.”[xvii]
A final series of data points involves the murderous jihadist assaults in London in 2017.
In March, 2017, a terrorist raced a motorized vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing five of them. He then leaped out of the car and stabbed to death an unarmed policeman before being shot to death by armed police officers.
In June, 2017, three jihadists drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge and then jumped into the ensuing melee, stabbing random victims with knives. Eight innocent persons were killed before armed police officers shot dead the three perpetrators.
Two examples form a small series, it is true, but given the increasing propensity of psychopaths to use motorized vehicles as murder weapons, it is a form of assault regarding which persons concerned with safeguarding the innocent must be aware.
Despite the above data, Great Britain, relative to most other nations, has a low rate of violent crime.
It must be perennially remembered that cultures often differ regarding moral and philosophic principles, including regarding their ethical assessment of initiating physical force. These, as well as other factors, contribute to a nation’s crime rate. The good news is that the British are, more than most cultures, generally a non-violent people; and their felicitous commitment to non-violence undoubtedly contributes to their misguided antipathy to gun ownership. They are confused regarding the relationship of violent crime to widespread gun ownership by honest persons; indeed, hold a view that is polar opposite to the truth.
The British rate of violent crime is relatively low despite, not because of, a cultural antagonism to, and a legal ban on guns.
If honest Britons changed their minds on this issue, and if the government protected the right of honest citizens to own and, in self-defense situations, deploy guns, the British rate of violent crime would undoubtedly decline to even lower levels.
Guns, in the hands of honest, trained persons, save innocent lives.
[i] John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, second edition (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 19-20. Lott states: “Overall, my conclusion is that criminals as a group tend to behave rationally–when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.” Lott, 19. But I think a more accurate formulation is: Overall, criminals as a group tend to be cowardly–when crime becomes more dangerous, less crime is committed.” See also Lott’s excellent chapter entitled, “Concealed-Handgun Laws and Crime Rates: The Empirical Evidence,” 50-96.
[ii] Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, 79-80. Quote on 79.
[iii] Jeffrey Miron, Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition (Oakland, California: Independent Institute, 2004), 3, 25-42. Mark Moore, “Actually Prohibition Was a Success,” www.nytimes.com/1989/10/16/opinion/actually-prohibition-was-a-success.html. “Did Prohibition Reduce Drinking?” priceonomics.com/did-prohibition-reduce-drinking/. Mark Thornton, “Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure,” www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/alcohol-prohibition-was-a-failure. All retrieved on March 12, 2018.
[iv] This is not to say that we should refrain from legally banning gun sales to convicted felons or to individuals with histories of severe psychological disorders; nor is it to say that we should not legally ban child prostitution.
It is to say that legal prohibition of x is insufficient, in itself, to eliminate demand for x.
[v] www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/06/22/americas-complex-relationship-with-guns/ Retrieved on March, 4, 2018.
[vi] news.gallup.com/poll/1645/Guns.aspx. Retrieved on March 13, 2018.
[vii] Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, 1. The numbers recounted in this study have no doubt changed over the intervening years; nevertheless, they still provide a baseline from which to start.
[viii] Miron, Drug War Crimes, 51.
[ix] Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, 5.
[x] James D. Wright and Peter Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms (Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter Publishers, 1986), 150. Quoted in Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, 5.
[xi] Richard Poe, The Seven Myths of Gun Control: Reclaiming The Truth About Guns, Crime, And The Second Amendment (New York: Forum, 2001), 97-98.
[xii] www.theguardian.com/UK/2008/aug/30/UK crime1. Retrieved on March 7, 2018.
[xiii] Helen Williamson, “How illegal firearms find their way onto British streets despite tough laws,” the conversation.com/how-ilegal-firearms-find-their-way-onto-british-streets-despite-tough-laws-61239, Retrieved on March 7, 2018.
[xiv] crimeresearch.org/2013/12/murder-and-homicide-rates-before-and-after-gun-bans/ Retrieved on March 7, 2018.
[xv] “Senseless Violence: How many London stabbings have there been and are offences on the rise? Knife crime stats in the U.K.” www.thesun.co.uk/news/5251268/london-stabbings-rise-knife-crime-statistics-uk/ Retrieved on March 7, 2018.
[xvi] Violent Crime rising in england and wales, police figures show,” www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/27/violent-rising-england-wales-police-figures-ons Retrieved on March 7, 2018
[xvii] “Gun Crime in London increases by 42%,” www.bbc.com/news/uk/-england-london-39578500. Retrieved on March 11, 2018.
Latest posts by Andrew Bernstein (see all)
- The Purpose of Memorial Day: Honoring Virtue - 2019.05.24
- The Capitalist Manifesto: The Great Disconnect (Book Excerpt) - 2019.05.22
- Black Innovators and Entrepreneurs Under Capitalism - 2019.03.09