Gun Control: The Seventh Paradox

Dr. Michael S. Brown

February 27, 2000

Few public policy discussions have become so bitter and divisive as the endless debate over guns. None is so burdened with contradictions and misinformation. The dictionary defines a paradox as, "something or someone with seemingly contradictory qualities or phases." Here are seven paradoxes that have developed during the course of this conflict:

1. Women are usually at a physical disadvantage when confronted by a male attacker and violence against women has been a major societal issue. Some women know that a firearm combined with training is a true equalizer. They have taken steps to educate themselves and safely provide for their own security. However, many women reject this opportunity. They seem to accept the concept that guns are evil and promote violence. Thus, those who could benefit most from gun ownership are least likely to own one.

2. Police chiefs are famous for blaming crime on "guns flooding the streets", and generally support more gun control. However, rank and file police officers are overwhelmingly opposed to stricter laws. Why the disagreement? Most police chiefs are political appointees selected by the Mayor. Most Mayors favor stricter gun laws and would be unlikely to choose or keep a chief who disagreed. Officers who work on the streets are much more practical. They know they can't be everywhere at once and are usually limited to processing crimes after they have occurred. Unlike the chiefs who are surrounded by tight security and influential people, officers who work on the streets know all too well what the world is like for the rest of us.

3. Celebrities and politicians who promote gun control are the ones who don't need to protect themselves. They have access to the best bodyguards that money can buy. Even if the strictest imaginable gun laws are enacted, armed men will still protect them.

4. As a result of state laws passed in recent decades, citizens in 31 states are now entitled to concealed weapons permits if they have a clean record and fulfill various requirements. Data gained from this change has provided important new knowledge for gun law discussions. To the great surprise of anti-gun groups, it turns out that permit holders are far less violent than the general population. Even more significant is the fact that crime decreased in the areas where permits were made available. As one researcher put it, "more guns, less crime".

5. Criminals victimize minorities at a much higher rate than the general population, yet many gun control efforts such as buy-backs and neighborhood sweeps of low income areas are aimed at reducing gun ownership by minorities. This paradox has operated as long as human history. Immigrants, political dissenters and ethnic minorities have been disarmed many times by governments seeking to bring them under tighter control. They are always told that it’s for their own good.

6. The position that gun issues have assumed in the political spectrum is very interesting. Liberals, who defend the right of a woman to have an abortion, would generally deny her the use of a firearm to protect herself and her family. Conservatives, who typically feel that the government should allow people to make their own important decisions, want more government control of personal reproductive choices. Since these are both matters of life and death, one might expect more consistency, but somehow the positions have become reversed.

7. The seventh paradox is the most profound. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Gun control simply does not work as crime control. Case after case shows that when cities, states and nations implement gun control, crime goes up. Washington, Chicago, New York, Australia, Britain; the list is long and getting longer as the seductive appeal of gun control spreads. Criminologists explain that disarming the law-abiding population makes life easier for criminals who are going to ignore the law anyway.

No other major political issue is so plagued by paradoxes. They arise from a variety of sources that could serve as a list of societal ailments; racism, sexism, classism, political corruption, excessive media influence, fear of the unknown and honest disagreement.

Whichever side you choose to support, it is fascinating to observe the debate.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist in Vancouver, WA who moderates a large email list for discussion of gun issues in Washington State.
Copyright Michael S. Brown, 2-27-2000

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5 mar 2000