OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today

Sloppy Thinking:

The following letter appeared in the Best of the Web yesterday. It was composed by a resident of Germantown, MD, who had written an earlier letter that irritated people:

My intention was not to offend Christian conservatives--so if I have offended you as a Christian, who is also conservative, I would like to apologize. However, I am concerned that if we continue to blur the separation between church and state at home, it will become more and more difficult to win the hearts and minds of nondemocratic nations abroad.

While I find the "culture of life" argument appealing, conservatives use it only where it is convenient. For example, conservatives have abused the Second Amendment to promote a "culture of death" with their unbridled support for all kinds of weapons, which are rarely purchased by law-abiding citizens but more frequently by criminals and visiting aliens (who probably export them to terrorists abroad).

I do not like to compare and equate religions for better or worse--religion has been the cause of the world's major problems throughout history--so it's best to keep one's faith personal. I can only hope you got my underlying message--the war on terror cannot be won if we start doing what they have been doing--defending political behavior and governance under the garb of a particular religion.
A generous apology should always be acknowledged, and so I do wish to remark that I appreciate the fellow's attempt to soothe the feelings of his fellow Americans. If all discourse was conducted so politely, we would have a far better political culture.

The BOTW replies, "[W]e appreciated the opportunity to call attention to sloppy thinking. And we're going to take this opportunity to do so again." They then reply to his point about involving religion in politics.

There is another, far worse, example of sloppy thinking going on in the piece. It occurs in his example: "...unbridled support for all kinds of weapons, which are rarely purchased by law-abiding citizens but more frequently by criminals and visiting aliens (who probably export them to terrorists abroad)."

There is absolutely no evidence to support this line of thinking. It is a sentiment based on nothing at all.

* There are nearly as many firearms in America as there are people. If this were true, "most" of these firearms, being purchased "more frequently" by criminals and aliens, would be used in crimes. The real numbers are miniscule:
Even if the same gun were never used more than once in committing a crime, only one out of every 309 guns would be involved in a crime in a given year... If we realistically allow for repeated criminal uses of the same weapons, the fraction of all guns that are ever involved in crime would be less than 1 percent, with long guns under 0.5 percent and handguns under 2 percent.
* As a trip to any gun show will demonstrate, the majority of firearms purchased or traded in America are antiques that are collected by enthusiasts, rarely but sometimes fired on the range. The majority of firearms have no interest to criminals or aliens at all.

* Of those firearms which might be interesting to criminals or aliens, the transfer or sale of any of them come under some 20,000 existing Federal firearms laws or regulations.

* Any Federal Firearms Licensee (i.e., a gun dealer, as all are required to be FFLs) is required to conduct a background check before tranferring a firearm to anyone. As a result, any alien who wants to buy a firearm from a gun dealer or at a gun show will have to be a documented alien; any criminal will have to be uncaught, as his record will follow him.

* The Violence Policy Center, a gun-banning outfit, prides itself on the sharp drop in the number of gun dealers in the United States under regulations enacted by the Clinton administration. However, most FFLs before those regulations were passed had become FFLs for reasons of convenience (it smoothes the process of collecting or trading the aforementioned antiques, as well as other firearms, which can only be legally shipped across state lines to an FFL, not a non-licensed private citizen). The main result of the VPC's work is that these "reduced" FFLs, who previously were required to conduct a background check on anyone to whom they transferred a firearm, are now private citizens who may sell their firearms without such a check. Good job, VPC.

* In spite of that change, the crime rate involving firearms has not risen. In fact:
There are more guns, gun owners, RTC [Right-To-Carry] states and carry permit holders than ever before. And the nation`s violent crime rate has decreased every year since 1991, to a 27-year low.
* Nor is the protection of the right to keep and bear arms a "culture of death." From the same source:
Survey research during the early 1990s by award-winning criminologist Gary Kleck found as many as 2.5 million protective uses of guns each year in the U.S. "(T)he best available evidence indicates that guns were used about three to five times as often for defensive purposes as for criminal purposes," Kleck concluded. Analyzing National Crime Victimization Survey data, he found, "robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all."

In most defensive gun uses, the gun is not fired. In only 1% of instances are criminals wounded, and in only 0.1% are criminals killed.
Thus, the right to bear arms is a part of a "culture of life," if you like. It prevents violence three to five times as often as not; only in 1% of cases is the criminal wounded, and only in a tenth of such cases is he killed. While there are some of us who would like to see the latter statistic rise a bit, the facts don't support the notion that there is a "culture of death" involved here. Just the opposite: this is how life is protected from human predators.

The gentleman who corresponded with the BOTW stands opposed to the idea of enacting law or policy based on faith. But faith is merely the belief in something that cannot be proven. This fellow is ready to enact law and policy based on beliefs that can be disproven. It seems to me that the religious fellows offer the better deal: at least their beliefs aren't demonstrably false.

No comments: