"No criminal ... with the intent or predisposition to commit a violent crime is going to be deterred by a local ordinance under which he could be fined a few hundred dollars for possessing the dangerous weapon he intends to use to commit the violent crime ... If the prospect of spending much of his life in prison does not deter this particular individual, then why in the world would the threat of a minor monetary fine deter him?" -Governor Allen, State of Virginia

"One tenet of the National Rifle Association's faith has always been that handgun controls do little to stop criminals from obtaining handguns. For once, the NRA is right and America's leading handgun control organization [Sarah Brady's Handgun Control, Inc.] is wrong. Criminals don't buy handguns in gun stores. That's why they are criminals." -Josh Sugarmann, Communications Director for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns

"If one looks on the (gun-control) debate as being only about crime and the equipment with which it is committed, one misses the entire point; the "debate" over guns is fundamentally a cultural and political debate." - James D. Wright, Department of Sociology at Tulane University

"Cultural conditions, not gun laws, are the most important factors in a nation's crime rate. Young adults in Washington D.C. are subject to strict gun control, but no social control, and they commit a staggering amount of crime. Young adults in Zurich are subject to minimal gun control, but strict social control, and they commit almost no violent crime." - David B. Kopel, NYC District Atty. & Policy Analyst at Cato Institute

"A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity." - Sigmund Freud

"The weapons-violence hypothesis is far too simplistic a basis on which to base sound public policy." - Daniel D. Polsby, Professor of Law at Northwestern University

"Gun controls would not work in America ... legal controls ought to support, not replace, self-control." - Thomas S. Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Science Center


Countries having successful gun countrol laws in the 20th Century -- and the results of those laws:

1915-1917 Ottoman Turkey, 1.5 million Armenians murdered
1929-1953 Soviet Union, 20 million people that opposed Stalin were murdered.
1933-1945 Nazi occupied Europe, 13 million Jews, Gypsies and others that opposed Hitler, murdered
1948-1952 China, 20 million anti-communists or communist reformers, murdered
1960-1981 Guatemala, 100,000 Maya Indians, murdered
1971-1979 Uganda, 300,000 Christians and political rivals of Idi Amin, murdered
1975-1979 Cambodia, 1 million educated persons, murdered


I realize that what I am about to say may alienate people who think they know where I stand on issues. But I want to take a somewhat different look at the gun issue:

Everyone seems to agree that we have a terrible problem with guns in this country. There are headlines as well as statistics to prove this. Few, however, agree on the causes of the problem, or what to do about it.

Among the theories about the origin of this mess is one that says our frontier heritage cast into our culture a belief that because we got out from under the tyranny of England's George III with a shooting revolution, that implementing justice, redressing grievances, and correcting wrongs of any kind are all best handled with guns. The good guy--the guy on the proper side of the law--wins in a throw-down because he is faster on the draw. This is demonstrated by every B Western movie and a thousand pulp fiction novels. (And the genre of Western Fiction is not a passing fad. It is our Iliad and Odyssey and it's here to stay.) The theory is that deep in our collective psyche is the feeling that a gun is a social tool and an indispensable prop of American Civilization.

Another theory cites a drug policy in this country that lacks sanity. Because we have put a monster drug traffic outside the law--we have outlawed drugs instead of regulating them--we have started with a medical problem and managed to turn it into a crime problem--and so we lost control of the situation, and the flow of guns into the streets and even the schools is a result of this.

I subscribe to both these theories.

But whatever other causes may be operative, the problem has little to do with the number of guns per capita. Israeli citizens are far more heavily armed than we are and there is less street crime there than in the US. In Switzerland, with its compulsory military service, every home has a gun in it--often a machine pistol--and they can boast the lowest gun-death rate of any industrialized country.

Gun aficionados are fond of saying "Guns don't kill people--people kill people." Well, they are right.

A firearm is a potent weapon that can provide action-at-a-distance--that can be lethal fairly far away from the person wielding it. There is a very real question whether humans have progressed socially and psychologically enough to deal, not just with atomic bombs, but with small calibre firearms. But these things are here to stay. They are with us, and we can't un-ring that bell. It might seem that it would be nice if no such things existed--if there were no instruments to send pellets of metal tearing through flesh--but when there were no guns people impaled each other on spears and hacked each other to pieces with swords, so the difficulty is not guns, but human nature. And we aren't going to solve that problem with simple prohibitions.

Abolishing guns in not in the cards. [Sensible regulation is.] I sympathize with people who want to ban guns, but I can't agree with them. We have to be careful that in our zeal to abolish guns we don't wind up pushing counter-productive legislation that will leave armed only those people most likely to do harm with the weapons.

We have probably 200 million firearms in the United States, owned by 65 million Americans. About 25% of us are gun owners. (In Switzerland it's closer to 100%). More than 98% of U.S. guns are never involved in crimes. The headlines, of course go to those that are involved.

When the magnitude of the gun problem dawned on the American Public, the reaction was two-fold: one faction sought to ban guns, or to put in place controls so stringent as to be unworkable; and the other decided to arm themselves individually. Both responses were in the main inappropriate. Outright bans are counter-productive; and untrained civilians carrying firearms are dangerous--to themselves and others.

I have reservations about mass arming of everyone--the potential for increased incident of accident and crimes of passion looms as a great worry. But here is where well-thought-out regulation can play a part. Taking courses in the proper and safe use, transport and storage of firearms can go a long way to keeping accidents, etc., down. Waiting periods and qualifications for licensing for each type of weapon are in order.

As for training in gun use and gun safety, the dreaded National Rifle Association has actually been in the lead on safety and proper use of firearms. Their image has been besmirched, probably unjustly, by zealotry in the ranks (and in management), which gave the appearance at times of wanting 9-year-olds to be able to walk into a gun shop and buy armor-piercing bullets. This was nonsense, and the organization is not as irresponsible as many think. (This statement is a little like George Bernard Shaw's when he was a music critic and said "Wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds."). But in fairness, the NRA has a point about the inadvisability of simply taking guns away from the populace. If that were possible, it would not disarm that small percentage of the populace willing to break the law, and the social environment. It would, in effect, disarm the honest bulk of the population.

A narrow 1986 study, appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. A breakdown of that number is instructive: First of all, 37 of those 43 deaths are suicides. And banning guns does not ban suicide. When Canada enacted strict gun controls in 1976 psychiatrists noticed that jumping off bridges replaced suicides previously committed with guns. In Japan, where they have tried to ban all guns, the suicide rate is consistently and dramatically higher than here in the U.S.

And home defense by force of arms is not simply a matter of shooting intruders. There are cases in which burglars or intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm, and cases in which would-be intruders may have purposely avoided a house known to be armed.

By and large, burglars, robbers, and muggers use guns because they assume their victims are unarmed and afraid of guns. They want control. They do not seek to have a shoot-out with their victims. Training in gun use deals with when to display a firearm and when to turn over your cash and jewelry.

The total number of deaths attributed to firearms is between 25,000 and 30,000 a year. This includes suicides, homicides, the so-called justifiable homicides (mostly self-defense) and accidents. Even at the 30,000 figure it is far less than are killed by automobiles. Would we be justified in seeking to ban automobiles? American adults use many things that are dangerous, and we live with the risks.

Most of America's 65 million gun owners collect and use their firearms responsibly. Punishing people who obey the law is backward thinking.

It's true that there are many armed crimes in this country, but our collective delusion about firearms, obscures the real reason for almost all of that crime. It is the so-called War on Drugs, recently again called a failure by legislators who see the folly of our policy. Having abandoned our jurisdiction by putting drug traffic outside the law--outlawing substances that can be abused--we have created a situation where gang members and drug dealers buy guns on a black market where guns are cheap, untraceable and require no waiting period, and then overflow onto the streets and show up in the hands of school-children.

We need to get that straightened out. In the meantime, let's not commit the folly of prohibition on yet another dangerous thing. We did it with liquor, and things got better when we woke up and brought liquor under the law and got rid of prohibition. We may yet display some common sense in the drug problem by replacing prohibition with regulation, and we have time to avoid the mistake with guns.
- Hugh Downs, ABC Reporter, in a 1995 Editorial