Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The right to bear arms

Most of my Australian readers will laugh or scoff at this notion, thinking that the right to bear arms is some ill-conceived cowboy attitude from America.

Thankfully, in Australian cities, for the most part, there is an extremely low rate of gun-related crime. And because of this convenient status-quo, many people find comfort in the belief that the police are armed and capable of protecting them from criminals.

So most people don't see the need for a gun, and upon hearing the horrors of a shooting, feel that a complete ban on firearms is reasonable and logical. People simplify the issue, by thinking guns are dangerous, I don't want/need one, therefore they should ban them.

But this principle can come undone very quickly. It doesn't take much.
1/ If gun related crimes and theft increased, people would feel more of a need to defend themselves with force.
2/Also, as media reports of police failures emerge, people would realise that their belief that the police will always be there to protect them would be foolish.
3/People can take a look at any European country with strict anti-gun laws, to see that it doesn't at all eliminate gun related crime.

The police are drastically undermanned and are often busy enforcing our authoritarian and rigorous traffic laws. There are bad neighborhoods, especially in Sydney, where it isn't so safe and criminals do have more access to guns.

So if you have someone living in the vicinity of one of these bad neighborhoods, who is living in fear of a breakin or shooting, and want to protect themselves and their family with the use of force, who are we to deny them ?

In fact, if a crime wave broke out over your own suburb, wouldn't your perceptions change rapidly ? If people see that the police are not protecting their homes and their security, then they would have to take measures into their own hands.

I'm not suggesting the entire population buy automatic rifles at the hint of an increase in crime. People would initially buy home security systems, have baseball bats or golf clubs as weapons, buy personal alarms, not walk alone at night, etc.

But if crime gangs used firearms to hold up stores, or break in to homes, then these measures might not be enough. Shouldn't it be up to the individual to decide if they need to have a firearm stored away safely for such emergencies ?

The truth, is not completely intuitive, but the facts from American history speak louder than any arguments:

Lott points out that in 1985, only eight states had right-to-carry laws — laws that allow a person to automatically get a permit, provided he passes a background check and completed a training course. Today there are forty states that have some version of these laws. Lott's examination of the data showed that "from 1977 to 1999, states that adopted right-to-carry laws experienced a 60% drop in the rates at which the attacks occur and a 78% drop in the rates at which people are killed from such attacks."

Moreover, he points out that before 1995, it was possible for teachers to bring guns to campus in many states and that "the rash of student shootings at schools began in October 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi after the ban," (my italics).