When It Comes to Firearms, Do As I Say, Not as I Do

by John Lott
Yale University Law School
from the Los Angeles Times
June 1, 2000

Rosie, say it's not so! The news last week was surprising: Rosie O'Donnell's bodyguards had applied for permits for concealed handguns.

Few have declared their opposition to guns as strongly as O'Donnell. For someone who ambushed Tom Selleck on her television show last year on gun control, called for the abolition of the 2nd Amendment and emceed the so-called Million Mom March in Washington, the advice that O'Donnell has freely given others no longer seems to match what she thinks is best for her own family.

Earlier in May on ABC-TV's "This Week," Rosie was asked if she opposed concealed handgun laws. She declared: "Of course, I'm against them." She has claimed that "I also think you should not buy a gun anywhere."

O'Donnell previously has been accused of trying to generate attention for her flagging television show by attacking Selleck, despite her agreement with him not to discuss guns. Her credibility was tarnished by appearing in ads for Kmart, a major seller of guns.

Yet the current hypocrisy is more fundamental. A spokeswoman for O'Donnell justifies guns for the talk show host's bodyguards because of threatened violence. Yet how does her concern differ from what motivates anyone who gets a gun for self-defense? Why does O'Donnell give others advice that she doesn't find applicable to herself?

O'Donnell's response that she still does not "personally own a gun" misses the whole point. Of course, she does not need her own gun when her bodyguards have their guns with them.

Unfortunately, O'Donnell joins a long list of people who demand that others disarm even while they keep their own armed bodyguards. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, for example, surrounds himself with armed guards even when he visits relatively low-crime areas, but he opposes issuing handgun licenses for people to keep a gun at home in even the most dangerous parts of the city. (Chicago has the highest murder rate of any large city in the U.S.)

For their own safety, people should not follow what O'Donnell preaches, but what she does: Get armed protection. As she apparently believes for her own safety, and as the statistics bear out, passive behavior is simply not the wisest course of action. The chance of serious injury from an attack is 2 1/2 times greater for women offering no resistance than for those resisting with a gun. Having a gun is by far the safest course of action, especially for people who are relatively weak physically -- women and the elderly.

Concealed handgun permit holders not only protect themselves but often others, though this receives very little attention. Take the following two incidents occurring the same week as O'Donnell's story hit the media:

In Florida, a robber at a Wal-Mart store slashed two employees with a knife, but before he could cause further injuries 53-year-old Sandra Suter pulled out a pistol and said, "I have a concealed weapons permit. Either drop the knife, or I'll shoot you." After repeating her threat, the robber dropped his knife.

In Indiana, 70-year-old George Smith stopped two armed robbers at a store because he had a gun. As one of the store clerks saw it, "I think George was the real hero. He saved my life." He likely saved other lives as well, but probably no one outside of Indianapolis has heard of this story.

Unfortunately, no one like Suter or Smith was present at Wendy's last week in Brooklyn when five workers were killed. If they had been, and been able to prevent the attack, would that have gotten the same attention? Despite the focus in the media, people use guns defensively about five times more frequently than guns are used to commit crime.

Greenwich, Conn., where O'Donnell lives, is one of the wealthiest and safest cities in the United States. Most people there can sleep well at night without a gun for protection. This is not true in many other places, particularly in poorer urban areas. As long as inexpensive guns have not been outlawed, many poor, vulnerable citizens will continue to rely on guns for self-protection.

O'Donnell may be able to afford bodyguards and pride herself that she does not "personally own a gun." Yet many other people have just as great a need for protection. Guns are the poor man's bodyguard.

* * *

John R. Lott Jr. is a senior research scholar at Yale University Law School. The second edition of his book More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (University of Chicago) is being published this month.

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8 jun 2000