What's all the fuss about firearms?

August 19, 1999|By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas -- "My friends in the gun-nut lobby tell me they are sick and tired of people like me using this rash of multiple killings to make points in favor of gun control -- and I can sure see how they'd be getting upset about that.

So, let me use the latest unpleasantness, at the Jewish community center in Los Angeles, to make one of their points, instead.

My gun-nut friends often tell me these mass shootings wouldn't happen if more people carried concealed weapons. How right they are: If those 5-year-olds in Los Angeles had just been packing, none of 'em would have gotten hurt.

I wrote that earlier this month and didn't use it on the grounds that it was too flip for the circumstances. The reason I'm using it now is because Thomas Sowell, a right-wing columnist from the Hoover Institute, actually wrote a column in all seriousness saying, yep, the solution to these mass killings is more guns.

Mass killings

Incredibly, he argues that the mass killings have been taking place in white, middle-class settings and wouldn't happen in the ghettos or barrios because more folk there are packing.

I hate to tell him this, but if the murder rate in white, suburban America were the same as that in inner-city ghettos, we'd be confiscating guns by now.

I'm also amused by the gun-nut lobby huffing that the gun-control laws we have on the books now aren't enforced.

The reason that's such a hoot is because the gun lobby has done everything in its considerable power to prevent effective enforcement of gun-control laws, including arguing not just for defunding and under-funding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but for abolishing it entirely.

If you have ever seen an under-funded program, try the one that's supposed to keep track of gun dealers.

For those of you who have not followed these funding wars over the years, the BATF is the focus of a cult of hatred among those on the far right.

And if you think I am exaggerating or insulting these people by calling them gun nuts, I recommend that you find some of their Web sites, look at their material and see what you think they should be called. Nor do I call them friends sardonically, since my public stands on the Koresh fiasco, Ruby Ridge, etc. have put us on the same side several times.

Nevertheless, it is outside of enough for people who oppose gun-control laws and the agencies assigned to enforce them -- groups that have done their best to destroy and under-fund these agencies for years -- to then criticize the same agencies for not doing their job well when the gun groups are the ones who have starved them of wherewithal to do it. The argument stinks.

It's also past ripe to cite John Lott's 1998 book, "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws." Mr. Lott's study supposedly showed that when 10 Western states passed "right-to-carry" laws between 1985 and 1992, they had less violent crime.

Whoopee.

This study has now been debunked so many times that it's irresponsible to quote it as though it proved anything. Not that Mr. Lott's data is wrong, but as he himself admits, he didn't look at any other causative factors -- no other variables, as they say.

As one reviewer noted, the results are so odd that, according to the author's research, getting rid of black women older than 40 would do more to stop murder than anything else we could try.

The January 1998 issue of The Journal of Legal Studies carries one important critical study of Mr. Lott's work. The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence did a 1999 analysis of crime statistics that came to a conclusion opposite of Mr. Lott's, and their study (like his) is open to review by experts in many fields.

The whole topic of ideologically tainted research is too large for this column, but it is worth noting that Mr. Lott, an Olin Fellow at the University of Chicago, is an enthusiastic libertarian and follower of the "Chicago school" theories of law and economics.

Far more useful is "Making a Killing," a book by Tom Diaz concerning the gun industry -- although I should note that Mr. Diaz is an analyst at the pro-gun-control Violence Policy Center.

Remarkable book

What Mr. Diaz has written is a work of journalism, however, and his sources are the gun manufacturers themselves, which is what makes the book so remarkable.

Those of you who have questioned, as I have, whether suing gun manufacturers is not an example of trial lawyers overreaching will want to take a look at Mr. Diaz's book. As with the tobacco companies, the truly appalling evidence is in their own words and marketing strategies.

Gun manufacturers faced a simple problem: A gun, if taken care of, does not wear out. And as the country has become more suburban and less rural, demand has gone down. So the industry had to create new markets, and what it has been selling are fear, more-lethal lethal weapons and "Rambo" appeal.

It's a gruesomely fascinating marketing story -- new cartridges with "fast knockdown" due to the "massive wound channel."

I remain pro-knife. You have to catch someone before you can stab him, knives don't ricochet, and people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives. A better deal.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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