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Decline of the Violence Policy Center

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted June 24, 2002

One of the most interesting and entertaining combatants in the forty-year war over gun rights is the Violence Policy Center of Washington, D. C. A recent VPC "study" on the topic of concealed handguns in the state of Texas reveals much about this unique organization. But first a little background on concealed carry laws.

Thirty-four states now have laws that guarantee a concealed handgun permit to citizens who have passed a criminal background check and completed appropriate training. None of these laws has ever been repealed, because they have been universally successful. Each time another state considers a concealed carry law there are shrill cries of "Dodge City" and "blood in the streets" from opponents, but the dire predictions never materialize.

It is generally believed that permit holders form the most law-abiding segment of society and some very professional research indicates that crime does indeed go down when these laws go into effect.

Devout members of the anti-gun lobby hate these laws with a passion, because they challenge the basic anti-gun principles that (1) guns cause violence and (2) ordinary people cannot be trusted with guns.

Now back to the Violence Policy Center, a small anti-gun think-tank supported by grants from liberal-left foundations and wealthy benefactors who can afford their own armed bodyguards, but prefer a disarmed peasantry.

Our friends at the VPC have a standard procedure for dealing with all gun-related issues. They don't exactly lie, but they are masters of the half-truth and the twisted sound bite. Some of their past work has been diabolically brilliant. Millions of soccer moms who knew nothing about guns were terrified by VPC-inspired campaigns like the one that labeled gun shows "Tupperware parties for criminals."

Even when their tactics were blatantly dishonest, you had to admire their creativity and dedication to the cause.

Their latest report, "License to Kill IV," is a surprisingly lame attempt to smear the reputation of Texans who hold concealed handgun licenses. It tries to follow the familiar VPC pattern, but the old creative energy seems to be missing.

They first attempt to alarm us by stating that permit holders are more likely to be arrested for gun-related offenses. This is like saying that individuals who have a driver's license are more likely to be arrested for vehicle-related offenses. And the nature of the offense is often minor, such as accidentally exposing a concealed firearm or accidentally carrying it into a forbidden zone. Many cases are not prosecuted and many of those that are will result in a not-guilty finding.

Then they state the number of permit holders who are arrested for various crimes. They deliberately fail to mention that there are roughly 200,000 CHL holders in Texas, so the actual rate of arrests is extremely low.

The authors of the VPC report give only the number of arrests, not the number of convictions, which brings up an interesting facet of armed self-defense. In many jurisdictions, a citizen who fires a gun in legitimate self-defense is automatically arrested and charged with murder or assault so that the local prosecuting attorney can sort out the facts at his leisure. Once the facts are clear, the charges against the CHL holder are usually dropped. Relying only on arrest data provides a biased view, as the VPC well knows.

Instead of a scholarly analysis of the data, we are offered anecdotal accounts of a handful of crimes committed by CHL holders. In none of these cases is there any reason to believe that the possession of a CHL facilitated the crime in any way.

Of course the VPC is trying to make it appear that CHL holders are a major cause of crime in Texas, but anyone with a computer can find the truth. In reality, a male CHL holder in Texas is 7.7 times less likely to be arrested for a violent crime than an adult male without a CHL. Don't take my word for it, read it yourself at http://www.txchia.org/sturdevant2000.htm.

In many ways the report is a typical VPC project, but this latest attempt at spreading misinformation reveals a sad sloppiness creeping into their previously professional prevarications. Where are the frightening photos and quotes taken out of context? Where are the clever new sound bites?

Morale must be low at the VPC. Public opinion has shifted to the pro-gun side and easy fact checking via the Internet reduces the impact of their work. Perhaps the game is over and it's time for the hard-working propaganda experts of the VPC to seek honest employment. Please send job offers to info@vpc.org.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, email him at rkba2000@yahoo.com.

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