Gun Guys Won, But Not On Facts


Gun enthusiasts feel a need to keep arguing for their right to bear as many firearms as possible when, as noted in this column recently, the battle is over, with the all-guns-at-all-costs crowd victorious. Their achievement is an estimated 280 million firearms in a nation of about 307 million people, a stunning ratio that guarantees continued gun violence well beyond the bloody spring we're having this year.

That connection is what seems to set the enthusiasts off - that the all-guns-at-all-costs lobby is somehow responsible for all the American bloodshed.

So they crank out e-mails to deny complicity, correct my thinking, explain the Second Amendment and offer "facts" about how much safer we all are because we've become better armed. Ron Smith wrote on this page two days ago that Pennsylvania has a more liberal gun permit system than Maryland and a lower rate of violent crime, thus proving that firearm freedom increases public safety. Case closed.

Never mind that study from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center two years ago. It was the first comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of homicide rates and gun ownership. Estimating about 280 million guns across the nation, it found that homicide rates were higher in states where more households have guns. The 12 states with the highest prevalence of household gun ownership had firearm homicide rates 114 percent higher than the 12 states with the lowest prevalence, and 60 percent higher overall.

But never mind all that.

No one seems to want to argue these points anymore - except, interestingly, the gun enthusiasts, who already have won the battle over gun control.

The all-guns-at-all-costs crowd - the National Rifle Association, the firearms industry, et al. - refuses to acknowledge that with so many guns and so few public leaders willing to do anything about them anymore, chances increase that we're going to continue to see inner-city gang violence, suburban mass killings and suicides like those this spring.

Handguns and assault-style weapons make it all easier, always have. Guns are the tool of choice of most killers in the United States.

"Hey Dan," wrote Jeff Seidenzahl, one of dozens of readers who e-mailed comments over the last two weeks, "on the front page of the Sun website there are two murders (Glen Burnie kid & family barbecue) and the Towson family murder. None of which involved the use of firearms. Kinda deflates your gun control theory, doesn't it?"

Mr. Seidenzahl referred to a 17-year-old boy charged with fatally stabbing his mother, a 20-year-old who stabbed a man during a fight over a video game, and the New York lawyer who police say asphyxiated his wife and two daughters before killing himself, using a knife, in the Sheraton in Towson.

This is one of the many old, obtuse arguments that gun enthusiasts pull out - that if you outlaw handguns, you need to outlaw cars, knives, baseball bats and scissors, too. Never mind what the Bureau of Justice Statistics says: Of the 14,831 murders reported to the FBI in 2007, about 73 percent involved the use of firearms, with handguns used in nine out of 10 such instances.

Handguns are a public health menace. If we reduced the number of handguns - if we let hunters have their rifles and shotguns and banned all other firearms - we'd have fewer homicides in the United States, fewer spouses impulsively killing each other, fewer criminals and would-be mass-killers able to conceal their weapons until the last moment, fewer police officers killed in the line of duty. But you've heard all that.

We had our chance to do something about this, and we didn't. Indeed, even at a time when violent crime has fallen across the country, we've been stocking up on guns.

Whatever drives it - irrational fear, the worry that the Apocalypse cometh - we have 280 million guns, and counting, in a nation of 307 million people, and counting. The logic follows the numbers, and the numbers guarantee a steady stream of violence and suffering. Gun guys, no need to keep arguing and rationalizing. You've won. Live with it.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays on this page and Tuesdays in the news pages. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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