Whenever massacres like the one in Las Vegas happen, hacks respond by venting their ideological prejudices.
Those on the Left want to ban all guns wherever they haven’t yet been banned. Those on the Right want to legalise all guns wherever they haven’t yet been legalised. And there’s also the middle ground, exemplified by our own Max Hastings, where the prevailing sentiment is close to the title above.
In his article, Mr Hastings first highlights his credentials by mentioning his marksmanship exploits in the army and his rich collection of sporting guns. He then proceeds to make a case against all guns “designed to kill people”, and hails the British ban on handguns – which, by the way, tend to be a lot less deadly than Mr Hastings’s shotguns.
He also claims that no evidence exists that private ownership of guns reduces crime, this because Mr Hastings has never read an article about a hero who foiled a mugging by whipping out his trusted S&W.
Such cavalier treatment of data is typical of hacks in general, but especially those on, or leaning towards, the Left, such as Mr Hastings. If he’s really interested in the truth of the matter, which he probably isn’t, I suggest he read John Lott’s comprehensive study, whose conclusion is also its title: More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 1998).
Dr Lott presents heaps of statistical analysis of crime data for every US city, county and state, measuring the effect of 13 different types of gun control on crime rates.
Those who are motivated by facts rather than ideological bias will learn that, since the time most states allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons, the levels of all violent crimes have gone down significantly.
What has this effect isn’t Mr Hastings’s imaginary vigilante saving a fair maiden by shooting her assailant dead, but the simple knowledge that this could happen. It’s not exactly counterintuitive to suggest that an aspiring criminal is more likely to be deterred by a possible bullet than by a non-custodial sentence complete with counselling.
The experience of other countries bears this out. In Switzerland, every able-bodied man has an assault rifle at home. This is complemented by handguns to be found in practically every home. However, the murder rate in Switzerland is so close to nonexistent that the Swiss don’t even bother keeping the relevant statistics.
Another example I like to quote is that of Japan, where gun laws are among the world’s strictest. Sure enough, the murder rate in Japan is low. However, it’s even lower within the Japanese community in California, where gun laws are among the world’s loosest.
The tendency to shoot people just for the hell of it has as little to do with the availability of guns as the tendency to drive vans through crowds has to do with the availability of vans.
This format doesn’t allow extensive speculation on the reasons for such crimes. Suffice it to say that they cover just about everything that goes into the making of society: religion, culture, education, law, psychiatric care, social and demographic make-up.
Denying law-abiding citizens the right to defend their life and property would only make sense if the state could be relied upon to do this job by itself. However, the growing crime statistics throughout the West show this isn’t the case.
Having thus put forth the case for legalising guns, we can then move into a different but related territory: the kind of guns that ought to be legal.
One suspects that even fully paid-up NRA members would agree that some weapons don’t really belong in private hands. Missile launchers would fall into that category, along with cannon, howitzers and – dare one say it – heavy machine guns.
NRA chaps regard the Second Amendment to the US Constitution with the reverence that used to be reserved for the Gospels. That amendment says: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Fair enough. But what kind of guns are we talking here? When that document was drafted, the only firearms in existence were single-shot flintlock muskets and pistols, delivering a fire rate of two shots a minute at best.
These were the weapons available to ‘a well-regulated militia’ should the need to protect ‘the security of a free state’ have arisen. Such a need was real at the time: neither the Constitution of the United States nor its society had been sufficiently bedded down to guarantee freedom and security.
In case of real threat, internal or external, an armed populace was indeed useful. Wielding the same type of weapons as those used by the army, and with a similar skill, people could be instantly massed together to form a formidable fighting force (as, alas, they were in the Civil War).
However, life has moved on, and not even the most fanatical NRA members claim that untrained chaps armed with M16 rifles could take to the streets in defence of ‘the security of a free state’.
A threat to national security could conceivably come only from rather more sophisticated weapons: ICBMs, nuclear bombs, tanks, artillery, AA systems, mobile missile launchers. I’d suggest that a tax-payer wielding an assault rifle, even one with a full-auto capability, would offer an inadequate line of defence.
That’s why even the aforementioned NRA types no longer offer such lofty claims. Instead they talk about personal protection, and here I’m with them a hundred per cent.
It logically follows that law-abiding citizens should have access to guns used, and useful, for that purpose. Yet here a full-auto rifle capable of firing 900 rounds a minute is a bit of an overkill, as it were.
Such weapons are designed to put so much lead per square foot, which is helpful when dealing with a frontal assault. However, the probability of Mr Billy-Joe Jones finding himself in such a situation at his Houston bungalow is low enough to be dismissed.
Any expert will tell you that a 12-bore shotgun, like one of those Mr Hastings uses for sporting purposes, is ideal for home defence. A shotgun is a simple mechanism that doesn’t require much maintenance, nor much skill to operate. Just point it in the general direction of the intruder, pull the trigger, and – as they say in Houston – he’s wallpaper.
A shotgun is too unwieldy to carry around, say on one’s way to a supermarket or a business meeting. There a handgun should do nicely, though its effective use does require much training. I used to go to shooting ranges regularly, but it took me a long time to learn how to hit the proverbial barn door with my .357.
These two types of weapons are sufficient for self-defence, and forget about the need for ‘a well-regulated militia’. That’s why they should be legal.
So, to expand on the title above, I’m not anti-gun, but having millions of army weapons in civilian hands is sheer madness. Insisting on it undermines the otherwise open and shut case in favour of private gun ownership.
Society won’t be purged of Original Sin, and therefore crime, by banning things, be it guns, vans, knives, pop concerts or that towering monument to vulgarity, Las Vegas. But good people must be allowed to protect themselves against bad ones – and have the tools to do that job.