Sometimes I think about how people’s perception of firearms is formed after watching television news year in and year out. If it was my only source of information, I might believe that it would make sense to rid the country of guns. Then murders, including school shootings, would end and there would be no downside.
Alas, with around 100 million gun owners possessing an estimated 300 million firearms, the country will never be rid of them and there is, however, a downside.
A book could be written on the benefits of owning firearms, but since we’re focused on firearms in crime, let’s look at the other side of the coin, the benefits.
In their 1995 article published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology titled “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” authors Kleck and Gertz noted that the National Crime Victimization Survey, a product of the U.S. Department of Justice, estimated that there are approximately 68,000 incidences yearly in which a firearm was used for self-defense; a number, they say, which was less than one-ninth of the numbers reached by at least 13 other similar surveys.
Whatever the actual number is, stripping away the means of preventing tens of thousands of violent crimes would be considered a downside by most people.
Of course, nobody is talking about ridding the country of firearms, just enacting some “common sense” gun legislation. Folks make references to the “assault rifle” ban passed in Australia after a mass shooting in 1996, claiming that homicides decreased afterward. That is true, but it is also true that the trend began either on or before 1989 (available data go back no further). There is no discernible change in the trend on or around 1996. Interestingly, in all but two years of the last 25 there were more stabbing murders than firearms murders.
Speaking of “assault rifle” bans, we had a federal one from 1994 to 2004. It was allowed to sunset because it had no effect on crime. So if it had no effect on crime here, and no effect in Australia, why do people keep coming back to it?
It is very easy and satisfying to point to the horrors of school shootings and suggest “common sense” solutions that will not work. I asked fellow Tucsonan Charles Heller, co-founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League and past executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, what steps could be taken toward the prevention of school shootings. He said, “Attacks can be prevented using existing law.”
He cited ARS 36-526, which provides for an evaluation to determine if an individual is a danger to himself or others, which could lead to court-ordered inpatient or outpatient treatment.
He added, “If a person is a danger to himself or others, why is he on the street in the first place?”
I thought of the attack on former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others who were shot during an outdoor constituent meeting. I recalled that the perpetrator, once in custody, was compelled to undergo psychiatric treatment for four months until he was competent enough to stand trial. It should not have taken that murderous assault to make that treatment happen.
Heller also mentioned FASTER Saves Lives (fastersaveslives.org). The professionals at FASTER Saves Lives train school staff workers to both stop an attack and provide lifesaving first aid until EMT’s are allowed on the scene.
I felt hopeful after speaking with Heller. He offered calm, adult solutions that focused on the problems at hand. No hysteria necessary.
It was much more satisfying than watching television news.