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Packing heat can save lives

By Michael M. Bates
web posted May 7, 2007

If only Virginia Tech's mass murderer had read the school's policy handbook.  He would have learned the college was a gun-free zone.  So then he wouldn't have brought any guns on campus and the tragedy could have been averted.

That's roughly the logic used by many proponents of gun control.  Adding more laws, rules and regulations to the thousands already on the books will somehow stop the violence.

A sad irony is a statement made last year when the state legislature let die a bill permitting licensed students and employees to carry handguns at public colleges.  A Virginia Tech vice president applauded the development, saying it "will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."  Regrettably, feeling safe isn't the same as being safe.  One must speculate if an armed student or college employee could have ended the murder spree.

The recent killings at a Kansas City shopping mall were yet another grim reminder of how dangerous even our most routine activities can be.  They also reinforce our awareness that the police can't always protect us.  Individuals must accept primary responsibility for their own safety.

Every year, many Americans use guns to protect themselves and their families.  Last October, Augusta TV station WRDW reported on one such incident in Georgia.  A would-be robber entered a dry cleaner and stuck a gun into the face of the assistant manager's 13-month-old grandbaby.  The grandmother told the perp where the cash was located.  While he went for that, she picked up her own revolver and cocked it.  He ran out lootless and was soon arrested.

A month earlier, a mugger in Harlem picked the wrong wheelchair-bound woman to victimize.  She was on her way to target practice.  She grabbed her .357 and shot him in the arm.  "He thought it was a freebie  - but it wasn't," the woman's neighbor told the New York Post.

An Ohio intruder used a sledgehammer to break into a man's rented home a few weeks ago; he also hit the victim in the head with the weapon.  As reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the intended victim shot and killed the trespasser.  The assailant had an extensive criminal record, having been cited for more than two dozen offenses in the last decade, and had served two terms in state prison.

Incidents like these often don't receive the media coverage that crimes and accidents committed with guns do.  Yet there's evidence suggesting the number of episodes in which guns protect people or their property is enormous.

In 1994, Clinton's Justice Department – certainly no friend of the Second Amendment – estimated 1.5 million defensive gun uses (DGU) annually.  A DGU is defined as using a gun, even if not fired, to protect yourself or someone else or property.  Some DGU estimates are even higher.

Those favoring gun control argue that more firearms mean more deaths.  Author, researcher and legal scholar Don B. Kates put the lie to this assertion by finding that, over the 30-year-period ending in 2003, the number of guns in the U.S. doubled while murder rates declined by a third.

Forty-eight states allow residents meeting their requirements to carry weapons.  Wisconsin and Illinois are the exceptions. 

Illinoisans concerned about their personal safety can go to the State Police's Web site for suggestions on what to do if confronted by an assailant.  There we learn that "articles common to your handbag . . . make useful defense weapons."  Examples cited include a nail file, a rat tail comb and a teasing brush.  Who needs a gun for protection when you've got a teasing brush handy?  My first reaction was that the vehemently anti-gun Gov. Rod Blagojevich had lent his expertise to the subject.  But then I remembered that Milorad doesn't carry his own grooming accessories like commoners do.  An armed state trooper handles that assignment.

I think every law-abiding citizen who can meet a few reasonable qualifications should have the right to carry a concealed weapon.  Just that possibility in itself may well be enough to deter certain criminals.  Their attraction to "gun-free zones" where folks are defenseless is understandable.  Knowing that potential victims can't protect themselves gives them confidence. 

Introducing an element of uncertainty as to whether their intended prey is actually powerless could be a discouragement.  Even folks who aren't armed would benefit from this deterrence.

Then there's also the possibility that a good guy with a gun can prevent or limit a catastrophe.  A decade ago in Mississippi, a student killed three people and wounded seven others at his high school.  His murderous rampage ended when an assistant principal, grabbing his own pistol from his truck, stopped him.

Opponents contend that allowing almost everyone to be armed will bring back the shoot ‘em up atmosphere of the Old West, as portrayed in movies.  Statistics show that violent crime is reduced, not increased, when citizens have the ability to impede it.

All the laws and gun-free zones in the world won't stop bad people from doing evil.  Letting decent people pack heat, though, might even out the odds a little. ESR

This Michael Bates column appeared in the May 3, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.






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