Friday, January 18, 2013

Armed Self-Defense Saves Lives

Immediately following the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings in July 2012, NJ Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun praised New Jersey U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez as "courageous" for their call for more gun control legislation.

But, there is nothing courageous about ignoring the full context concerning guns in a free society. Nowhere in the article does Braun mention the life-saving results of the defensive use of firearms. He and other "gun control" advocates should. 

According to an extensive Cato Institute study titled Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens, many thousands of would-be innocent victims of armed criminal assailants owe their lives to private citizens legally packing guns. 

In its opening section, Cato's Clayton E. Cramer and David Burnett ask:

What would be the effect of depriving ordinary, law-abiding citizens from keeping arms for self-defense? One result seems certain: the law-abiding would be at a distinct disadvantage should criminals acquire guns from underground markets. After all, it is simply not possible for police officers to get to every scene where
they are urgently needed. 

If policymakers are truly interested in harm reduction, they should pause to consider how many crimes—murders, rapes, assaults, robberies—are thwarted each year by ordinary persons with guns. The estimates of defensive gun use range between the tens of thousands to as high as two million each year.

In its thoughtful study, Cato notes that figures on the number of defensive gun uses range all over the lot, and are thus hard to pin down. But it's clear from the study that guns in the hands of private, law-abiding, responsible citizens stop or prevent a lot of violent crimes.

It must be remembered that the Aurora theater forbade patrons from bringing guns in, leaving only the rule-breaker with guns. How many lives could have been saved in that theater if one or two or 10 of those patrons were armed and trained to bring down the evil assailant? 

There are about 12,000 gun homicides yearly in America. But one must consider the thousands of people who don’t become part of that statistic because of armed civilians acting in self-defense or defending others--a figure that may exceed the number of actual victims. It is entirely likely that gun homicides would rise, not fall, if law-abiding citizens are forbidden to own or carry guns. In fact, that's exactly what happened in Colorado. Cramer and Burnett note that

...after Colorado’s 2003 concealed carry law was enacted, Colorado State University decided to allow concealed carry, while the University of Colorado prohibited firearms. The former observed a rapid decline in reported crimes, while the latter, under the gun ban they claimed was for safety, observed a rapid increase in crime.

Braun's focus is on banning so-called "assault rifles," which he defines as "guns designed solely to kill many" people. "Weapons of war have no place on our streets," Braun says, quoting a NJ congressman. I'm not sure about assault weapons specifically, but Braun's point is reasonable in principle (See my post Gun Control Should focus on Principles, Not Guns).

But for many gun control advocates, banning "assault weapons"--if there are objectively valid reasons for doing so--is an opening wedge for much more aggressive attempts to ban all guns. 

This is where a broader context is crucial.

Whether the number of lives saved by justifiable, defensive gun use is in the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of cases per year, gun control advocates must acknowledge this fact: If they got their way in severely restricting or effectively eliminating guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens, they will be condemning many innocents, who might otherwise survive an armed assailant, to serious injury or death.

Related Reading:

Gun Control Should focus on Principles, Not Guns

Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

Media Underplays Successful Defensive Gun Use, by Paul Hsieh

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