CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Legislature's guns-make-us-safer caucus seems determined to convince us that no dumb idea ought be denied codification.
This bipartisan gaggle of pandering legislators considers it reasonable to push for a law (certain to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court) that would have local or state law enforcement officers arrest (or try to arrest) federal marshals who do nothing more than enforce the law. These legislators want guns in schools, in the Capitol building, and want to make doctors criminals if they ask patients about guns in the home.
Their intentions may be good, but their proposals are based on a colossal mistaken assumption -- that we are safer when most of us are packin'.
Perhaps they have been residing in Backward World, where the president's loosening of gun restrictions equates to taking our guns. The president has, after all, put into place only two gun-related policies -- to permit guns to be carried in our national parks and on Amtrak.
I do not believe that guns should be outlawed, or taken. We have the right to own them. Also, we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Each of the Bill of Rights is restricted in one or more ways. Freedom of speech is restricted. You can't slander or libel. Freedom of religion is restricted. You can't engage in polygamy. Thus, it is unreasonable to argue that the right to bear arms must never be restricted.
The United States has about 11,000 gun murders each year, compared to fewer than 200 in most other industrialized nations. The anti-information crowd growls that gun violence may be laid at the feet of the mentally ill, the violent media and gangs, as if those phenomena do not exist in other countries. The difference between the U.S. and the other nations is summed up in two words -- gun availability.
When that is pointed out, the gun fetishists have a fallback position. Often, they tell us that more guns make the community safer. But the research is against them.
Writer Steven Randall reviewed their argument and found it wanting. For example, a 1995 study by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz is said to have found that guns were used nearly 850,000 times to thwart burglaries in a single year, 1992. But the Harvard School of Public Health's David Hemmensway debunked that finding. He pointed out that only about 1.3 million of the nation's six million burglaries in 1992 occurred when someone was at home, and that fewer than half of those households contained a gun. Thus, to believe Kleck and Gertz's findings, one would have to swallow their claim that there were about 850,000 instances in which guns were used to defend against burglaries, when only about 650,000 burgled households contained a gun, and someone at home to use it.
The only thing wrong with scientific studies is that they confound the gun and ammo industries and their proxy, Wayne LaPierre. What other reason would explain why those industries lobbied the Congress to pass a 1996 law that bans federal funding for most gun violence research by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control?
It is tempting for each of us to think of ourselves as the one person in a hundred who will maintain a cool head and act with steely-eyed composure when confronted with a bad guy. Then there is the reality of fumbling for your gun, which gives a crook the instant he needs to take it from you and shoot you.
Members of the Legislature, please help us increase our slender margin of safety. The highway sign says you are driving us ever closer to Dodge City. Reverse course.Wyatt is a Gazette contributing columnist and a Marshall University professor.