The mass murder in Tuscon shook me to the core Saturday, and I send my most sincere condolences to the families of Christina-Taylor Green, Dot Morris, John Roll, Phyllis Schnec, Dorwin Stoddard and Gabe Zimmerman, and I am hoping for a successful recovery for Congresswoman Giffords and the eight other wounded individuals. However, in no way does the incident change my beliefs about the Second Amendment and the utility of firearms in our society.
I'd like to explain why, as respectfully as I can, because I think civil dialog in the wake of a tragedy like this is difficult yet critical. I know I am in the vast minority within this community when it comes to this particular constitutional right, and I think it's important that those who see only negative value in firearms hear the other side, preferably from a progressive ally.
First, to be clear, I strongly favor licensing for firearms, and I disagree with the Arizona law that allowed Jared Loughner to obtain a firearm without getting a license. If we require a license to drive a car, we should require a license to own a gun (so long as the process is reasonable). If licensing was still required in Arizona, it might have prevented Loughner from obtaining a gun legally, although he most likely would have been able to obtain one illegally if he was determined to do so.
On the Second Amendment:
What happened in Tucson was horrific. There have been horrific tragedies involving guns in the past, and there will be horrific tragedies involving guns in the future. This is a terrible reality of our society. However, it is odd and disconcerting to see progressives, people who believe in a fierce protection of every other right afforded in the Constitution, willing to use a tragedy as an argument to limit our rights as American citizens.
September 11th was horrific, yet we fight tooth and nail to protect the Fourth Amendment, our right to privacy, despite the argument by the Bush and Obama administrations that certain privacy rights must be restricted to keep us safe. And we fight for the Fifth Amendment, pressuring our government to bring the Guantanamo detainees to trial, despite the fact that many see a danger in giving alleged terrorists the opportunity to be found innocent.
Why do we defend these rights, even in situations when there is a possibility that it might make us less safe?
Because if we only abide by the Constitution when it is convenient, the Constitution is worthless. That’s why I believe the right to keep and bear arms is as important to defend as every other right afforded by the Constitution.
On the Utility of Firearms:
When a gun is involved in a death, it makes the news. However when a gun is successfully used to prevent an act of violence, it goes unnoticed (especially in over 99% of cases when no bullets are fired). This is reality, and it makes sense; however, the disparate amount of attention paid to the two types of events creates a public misconception about the costs vs. benefits of allowing citizens to have firearms.
For every tragedy that occurs due to an irresponsible (or worse) action with a gun, there are many instances where guns are used to prevent a tragedy. According to the National Self Defense Survey conducted by Florida State University criminologists in 1994, the rate of Defensive Gun Uses was projected nationwide to approximately 2.5 million per year. Among 15.7% of gun defenders interviewed nationwide during the survey, the defender believed that someone "almost certainly" would have died had the gun not been used for protection. (In another 14.2% cases, the defender believed someone "probably" would have died if the gun hadn't been used in defense.) Even if these statistics are over-inflated, and we say 10% of Defensive Gun Uses resulted in a life being saved, that would mean 250,000 lives per year are saved due to defensive gun use.
On the other hand, the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention & Control reports that firearms caused 31,244 deaths in 2007 (the latest year they have statistics). Of these, 17,352 were due to suicide and 351 were due to legal intervention.
So, analyzing the costs versus benefits of an armed citizenry, the data shows that guns are resulting in lives being saved more than lives being taken on an order of at least 10 to 1. And this is just death. Obviously firearms are used to prevent other crimes such as rape, home invasion and robbery.
Firearms do not kill as many people as automobiles (42,031) or medical malpractice (195,000), yet we wouldn’t think of banning cars or doctors because the benefits of getting around and getting properly treated outweigh the potential tragedy of a drunk driver or a negligent doctor. Likewise, it’s only fair for gun control advocates to consider the positive value of firearms, and to think about the hundreds of thousands of people who believe they would have been robbed, raped, or killed if they were not armed during a violent altercation.
Again, my heart goes out to the victims in Tucson, and I wish for the recovery of those who were injured. But as horrible as it is, I believe it is problematic (and in some cases disingenuous) to use tragedy as an argument for the limitation of our constitutional rights.
Note: Many seem to think the high-capacity magazine Loughner was carrying would have been illegal before 2004 when the assault-weapons ban was in effect. To clarify, it would have been illegal to manufacture a new high-capacity magazine; however, pre-existing “grandfathered” magazines would have been readily available. The assault weapons ban is a subject for another day, but gun-control advocates should understand that there were so many loopholes and ambiguities in that legislation, the "ban" didn’t really do anything other than drive up the price for certain items and change the look of a few models. If you think the health care bill was a political red herring, you really need to study the AWB.