TWO PRESIDENTIAL assassination attempts within 17 days last month have once again made handgun confiscation a major national issue. It is, of course, classic naivete to assume that banning handguns will prevent a presidential assassin from obtaining one. Nor will banning handguns be any more effective in achieving any of the proposal's other aims.
But the major problem with the proposal is that the arguments in its support do not even begin to answer the principled arguments of its opponents. A free, liberal society is supposed to adhere to the principle that people should be free to do as they please with their own lives as long as they don't aggress against others. One often finds the same people who are so earnestly trying to ban handguns using this same principle legitimately to justify gay rights or legalization of marijuana.
This same principle, however, also applies to the debate over banning handguns. Gun ownership, the simple act of owning a gun, is not an aggressive act. Therefore, one should begin with the presumption that it shouldn't be outlawed. It would be one thing if, as Sheriff Buckley, founder of People vs. Handguns, argues, "The only purpose of a handgun is to kill people." But this is not true. The major purpose of a handgun is self-protection as well as the peaceful endeavors of targetshooting, hunting, and collection.
The corollary of each man's right to control his own life is the right to defend it. This right to self-defense implies the right to employ the means necessary to carry it out, one of the most effective means being the use of a handgun in emergencies. The right of self-defense, therefore, is an additional reason for maintaining a presumption against outlawing handgun ownership.
SHERIFF BUCKLEY counters that a handgun is not a good weapon for self-defense, and therefore, concludes there is no need for it. "Four family members of gun owners are killed in accidents for every burglar killed by a gun," he says. But the number of burglars killed by a handgun is a poor measure of the self-protection service it provides. There are no statistics on how much crime is prevented by guns, how many potential muggers, rapists, and murderers are frightened away when their victim shows his gun, and how many potential crimes are never attempted because the criminal susppcts his victim had a gun. But there are numerous such cases reported across the country each day and it is certain that banning handguns will mean a loss of life and security for many.
Moreover, the protection service of a handgun is like an insurance policy. The handgun provides constant protection against the possibility of a criminal attack, and therefore, provides a valuable service even if it is never used.
The argument that handguns do not provide good protection is an opinion, not the scientific determination that Sheriff Buckley pretends. There are 40 million handguns in the U.S. and 3 million new ones are produced each year. This heavy demand reveals that millions of Americans disagree with Sheriff Buckley and feel they are getting a valuable service from their handguns. Why shouldn't they have a right to this service if they feel they are getting a good deal?
It might be different if the government had shown it could effectively protect its citizens from crime and violence. But no one can seriously make that claim. The government has proven inept and incapable in preventing even hard-core repeaters from feasting on peaceful citizens. The soaring crime rates of the last decade make it clear that most people rely on the good will of their neighbors and their own means for their safety and protection. With crime and violence out of control this is certainly no time to ban handguns and take them away from millions of law-abiding citizens who are only trying to protect themselves.
Those who do not believe handguns are good for self-defense need not use them. They still receive the benefits from their armed neighbors as criminals restrict their activity for fear their victims may be armed. One wonders, if handguns are not good weapons for self-defense why Sheriff Buckley's police carry them. To kill people?
HANDGUNS HAVE hardly proven so dangerous in their current uses that they should be outlawed. In 1973, less than .00005 of all handguns were involved in fatal accidents and less than .0003 were used in murders. Much less than 1 per cent were used in any crime. It is not the handguns bought for self-defense and other legitimate purposes that are a menace to society, it is the few people who misuse them.
If individual rights and liberty are to be ignored, there are many ways to reduce crime, death, and violence. Far more people are killed in drunken driving accidents each year than in murders or accidents by handguns. Where are the calls to ban liquor because "the death toll mounts"? Or crime and death could be reduced by repealing the right of the accused to refuse to testify against himself or abolishing the requirements for warrants before the police can search a person's home. But such actions would be unjustifiable infringements on individual rights, just as a handgun ban would be an unjustifiable infringement on the right to engage in non-aggressive activities and the right of self-defense, especially when there are far more effective ways of dealing with crime and violence.
Additional problems of principle arise from the fact that a handgun ban would mean punishing one man for the crimes of another. It would mean punishing the law-abiding 99 per cent of all handgun owners abridging their rights for the crimes of the less than one per cent who misuse handguns. And most likely this one per cent will keep their guns in defiance of the law anyway. Furthermore, it is doubtful the law would be enforced against this one percent, because few laws, let alone gun laws, are enforced against the reckless criminal today. Common notions of justice would suggest, however, that the criminal one per cent be punished and the law abiding 99 per cent, who are only trying to defend themselves, be left free.
OPPONENTS of the handgun ban seem to be on firm philosophical ground in focus on the criminal rather than the weapon. If Oswald shoots and kills Kennedy, what killed Kennedy, Oswald or the gun? Clearly Oswald is the killer because he set the killing process in motion.
But the gun ban advocates seem to focus on the gun as killer. In at least 75 per cent of all killings, the Massachusetts Council on Crime and Correction says, "The guns themselves cause the crime," and "In anyone's hands, guns cause accidents and murders by the thousands," and "guns are responsible for 69 deaths each day." Focusing on the gun, one is led to the conclusion that should be banned.
But guns themselves do not cause crime and murder, it is the people who misuse them who are responsible. Focusing on the actor, it is clear that it is the criminal who should be punished, not 99 citizens who use their guns legitimately.
U.S. Rep. Steven Symms explained the issue before a congressional committee saying, "Gun prohibitionists, like the liquor prohibitionists in the 1920s, reach their positions through the use of convoluted logic about human behavior. Their assumption is that human beings are victims--mere pawns of the inanimate objects around them. Remove the objects and all will be well. The prohibition period should have taught us that this kind of reasoning is nonsense."
Banning handguns would only add another victimless crime to the already depressingly long list of such crimes. Real crime and murder could be prevented and vastly reduced by putting the repeaters who commit most of both in prison. Banning handguns would not only be an ineffective means for solving these problems, it would also be an illegitimate means.