America, Guns, and Freedom — Part II

(from thisissierraleone.com)

(from thisissierraleone.com)

[Ed: Here is an excerpt from Part II of the editorial contributor Manuel Faria, MD, published in Surgical Neurology International in 2012. Our shortened Part I is here; the full version is at HaciendaPub.com. The rest (our Part III)will follow. Please see the originals for the author’s references.]

In his celebrated book, The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy, author and gun rights attorney, David Kopel, makes the point that disparate countries such as Japan and Switzerland have low crime rates, regardless of gun control laws, because of close ties engendered in the traditional family. In those countries, parents spend time with their properly reared children, who are then imbued with a sense of civility as well as civic duty[29] In this milieu, children can be brought up with firearms, instructed in their use and safety, and when they grow up, they should be allowed not only to own guns, but to carry concealed weapons for self and family protection.[18]

However, convicted felons and mentally unstable people forfeit this right by virtue of the fact they are a potential danger to their fellow citizens. This has been recently demonstrated by the tragedies that took place in Arizona[6] and in Aurora, Colorado;[20] not only in the United States, but also in Oslo, Norway.[2] These three specific cases represent overt failures in the criminal justice or the mental health system, rather than a problem with “too many guns” in the hands of law‑abiding citizens. The case in Arizona is particularly revealing because that deranged individual should have received mental health treatment, which was not administered.[6]

GUN VIOLENCE, STREET CRIME, AND SELF‑DEFENSE

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, a former American public health official, once stated, “Most of the perpetrators of violence are not criminals by trade or profession. Indeed, in the area of domestic violence, most of the perpetrators are never accused of any crime. The victims and perpetrators are ourselves — ordinary citizens, students, professionals, and even public health workers.”[26] That erroneous statement is contradicted by available data, U.S. government data.

According to the United States Department of Justice, the typical murderer has had a prior criminal history of at least six years, with four felony arrests in his record, before he finally commits murder.[4] Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics reveal that 75% of all violent crimes for any locality are committed by 6% of hardened criminals and repeat offenders.[17] Less than 2% of crimes committed with firearms are carried out by licensed (e.g. concealed carry permit holders), law‑abiding citizens.[7,27,31]

Much has been said about “crimes of passion” that supposedly take place impulsively, in the heat of the night or in the furor of a domestic squabble. Criminologists have pointed out that homicides in this setting are the culmination of a long simmering cycle of violence. In one study of police records in Detroit and Kansas City, it was revealed that in “90% of domestic homicides, the police had responded at least once before, during the prior two years, to a disturbance,” and in over 50% of the cases, the police had been called five or more times to that dysfunctional domicile.[45]

These are not crimes of passion consummated impulsively in the heat of the night by ordinary citizens, but the result of violence in highly dysfunctional families, in the setting of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or other criminal activities. Violent crimes continue to be a problem in the inner cities of the large metropolitan areas, with gangs involved in robberies, drug trade, juvenile delinquency, and even murder. Yet crimes in rural areas, despite the preponderance of guns in this setting, remain low.[7,17,19,27,28,39]

Gun availability to law‑abiding citizens does not cause crime. However, a permissive criminal justice system, with revolving prison doors in the context of gun prohibition, exacerbates the problem of crime by making it more difficult for law‑abiding citizens to defend themselves, their families, and their property. In fact, there was a modest increase in both homicide and suicide rates in the United States after prohibition in the 1920s and again following the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 [Figure 1]. Those trends have fortunately subsided.[18,19,27,28]

As to how citizens can protect themselves from criminal assailants when the police, more often than not, are not there to protect them, the National Victims Data suggests that, “while victims resisting with knives, clubs, or bare hands are about twice as likely to be injured as those who submit, victims who resist with a gun are only half as likely to be injured as those who put up no defense.” Of particular interest to women and self‑defense, “among those victims using handguns in self‑defense, 66% were successful in warding off the attack and keeping their property. Among those victims using non‑gun weapons, only 40% were successful.”[27] The gun is a great equalizer for law‑abiding citizens in self and family protection, particularly women, when they are accosted in the street or when they are defending themselves and their children at home.[7,27,28,32,40,43]

MULTIPLE SHOOTING TRAGEDIES

Although not all citizens would want to carry a concealed firearm for self‑protection, criminologists point out that criminals do make quick “risk‑versus‑benefit” assessments about that looming, potential threat. Thus, criminological studies consistently reveal that just the knowledge that one in five or six citizens in a public place could very well be armed can deter crimes and could very well avert massacres, as has been the case in Israel, after the infamous Maalot Massacre,[8] Switzerland,[21] and the United States.[9,27‑29,31] In Switzerland, for example, where gun laws are notoriously liberalized, there was not a single report of armed robbery in Geneva in 1993![21]

Now, let us consider the recent case in Norway. After bombing a government building in Oslo and then taking over Utoya, an island in a nearby lake, a homicidal killer perpetrated a horrible massacre.[2] He is a declared anti‑Islamic fanatic, but instead of Moslems in a foreign land, Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 of his fellow countrymen. Breivik systematically hunted down unarmed people at a youth camp located on that island, methodically killing mostly teenagers who could not defend themselves. Imagine if just one adult had carried a gun, knew how to use it, and was prepared to defend his / her life and the lives of others.

Yes, there still may have been a massacre, but not 69 people shot haplessly in a virtual dove shoot. Just one individual armed and willing to protect his/her life and the lives of others was all that was needed to stop the carnage. Furthermore, even if the intended victim was prosecuted later for killing the madman in self‑defense and for standing his/her ground, it would have limited the massacre and saved the lives of others. This is true not only for Norway, but for any country, even a European country with draconian gun control laws.

However, in most European countries guns have long been registered, or banned and confiscated. Citizens are disarmed in the course of “progress,” and in those countries, no one even thinks about self‑defense anymore. They depend on the government completely for protection. Where guns are banned only criminals have guns.[10,11,27‑29,31]

In Macon, Georgia, USA, we recently had the case of a business woman (also a grandmother), who was attacked by two thugs bent on robbing her and perhaps even raping and killing her. They followed the woman home at 1:30 a.m. as she left one of her convenience store businesses. The thugs pulled guns on her and demanded cash as she sat in her car. However, the grandmother was armed. Shots were exchanged. The woman wounded one of her assailants, who was later apprehended as he rushed to a local hospital. The other criminal also fired shots at her, but escaped. She is safe and sound. “I carry a gun all the time,” she told a local newspaper reporter![35]

Of course in the southern United States this grandmother is a heroine and no one would consider prosecuting her.[25] But that is not the usual course of events in other countries, particularly in Great Britain. In England, a farmer who defended his home and possibly his life was sentenced to life in prison for shooting a burglar, a dangerous criminal![11]

MEDIA COVERAGE — SENSATIONALISM OR PROPAGANDA

The way the subject of guns and violence is reported by the popular media brings us to another problem. Many reports are saturated with media bias and sensationalism. The mainstream American press, just like their Western European counterparts, is overtly for gun control and look askance at citizens possessing firearms for self and family protection. With that in mind, let us take a look at how the media reports mass shootings in America. Four illustrative cases will help us draw inferences as to the nature of these incidents in the United States and the associated media coverage.

In 1997, in Pearl, Mississippi, 16‑year‑old Luke Woodham used a hunting rifle to kill his ex‑girlfriend and her close friend and wound seven other students. Assistant Principal Joel Myrick retrieved his handgun from his automobile and halted Woodham’s shooting spree. Myrick held the young delinquent at bay until the police arrived. Later it was discovered that Woodham had also used a knife to stab his mother to death earlier that morning. Even though this shooting incident was widely reported, the fact that Mr. Myrick, an armed citizen, had prevented a larger massacre by retrieving and using his handgun was ignored by the media.

Then in 1998, in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a deadly scenario took place when 14‑year‑old Andrew Wurst killed one teacher and wounded another teacher as well as two fellow classmates. The shooting rampage in Edinboro was halted by local merchant James Strand, who used his shotgun to force the young criminal to halt his firing, drop his gun, and surrender to the police.

And in another unreported incident in Santa Clara, California, Richard Gable Stevens rented a rifle for target practice at the National Shooting Club on July 5, 1999, and then began a shooting rampage, herding three store employees into a nearby alley, and stating he intended to kill them. When Stevens became momentarily distracted, a shooting club employee, who had a .45 caliber handgun concealed under his shirt, drew his weapon and fired. Stevens was hit in the chest and critically wounded. He was held at bay until the police arrived. A massacre in the making was prevented. The armed employee, an unsung hero, was ignored by the major media. Why are these and other similar incidents, where the tables are turned, and citizens use guns to protect themselves and others, only seldom reported by the mainstream media?[7‑9]

Finally, the more recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on July 19, 2012, resulted in the death of a dozen people because a deranged individual with criminal intent, James Holmes, was able to enter a theater with a posted “gun‑free zone” sign, a designated public place where armed law‑abiding citizens are not allowed to carry their concealed firearms. This theater had a “no guns policy,” similar to the situation in Norway, which amounts to a potential dove shoot, where only the predator, a hunter of humans, is armed. Interestingly, the United States media did not report another shooting incident that took place three months earlier in, of all places, Aurora, Colorado, where a law‑abiding citizen, an armed church‑goer, shot another human predator and stopped a shooting rampage, saving his life and that of others in the process.[20,33]

As we have described in Part I of this essay — thanks to the study of Dr. Edgar A. Suter, former Chairman of Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy, and others, whose studies we have cited — we now know that in the United States the defensive use of firearms by law‑abiding citizens surpasses the illegal use of guns by criminals:

The defensive use of firearms by citizens amounts to 2.5 million uses per year and dwarfs the offensive gun use by criminals. In the United States, between 25 and 75 lives are saved by a gun in self and family protection for every life lost to a gun in crime. Medical costs saved by guns in the hands of law‑abiding citizens are 15 times greater than costs incurred by the criminal use of firearms. Guns also prevent injuries to good people and protect billions of
dollars of property every year.

Unfortunately, the American media does not give those defensive uses of firearms the attention they deserve, and they go unreported. By and large, to read about the cases where law‑abiding citizens use firearms for self and family protection, one has to read independently published books such as Robert A. Waters’ excellent tome, The Best Defense.[43] Rarely do these cases get publicized in the mass media nor are they compiled, studied, and published in the medical journals, as public health investigators do with their “gun and violence” research.[7,13,27,31,40,43]

 

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—  Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is a retired Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Adjunct Professor of Medical History at Mercer University School of Medicine. He is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He served on the CDC’s Injury Research Grant Review Committee.

All DRGO articles by Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD