Letter to the Editor

Tuscon Tragedy MUST Affect Gun Policy

To the editor:

Amanda Ayers’ opinion piece (“Tucson tragedy shouldn’t affect gun control policy”) demonstrates how much work is still to be done in educating the public regarding sane firearm policy. Her editorial is little more than a jumble of gun lobby myths and falsehoods that fails to seriously engage the public health problem of firearm proliferation in American society.

She makes the obligatory reference to the Founders, who, we are told, liked guns a lot, and therefore we should too. But the Founders also believed that women should not have the vote and that the institution of slavery could be safely accommodated in a democracy, and no one today thinks those are serious positions just because they were proposed by political leaders of the late 18th century. The Founders were not gods, and they did their thinking in a world without AK-47s or Glock pistols with 30+ round magazines. We do not live in their world, and we have to go beyond the historical limits of their reasoning.

Ayers cites Justice Scalia speaking critically of complete bans on handgun ownership, but Scalia clearly acknowledged in his majority opinion in the Heller case that some limitations on the Second Amendment certainly pass constitutional muster. The legislation recently proposed by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy to outlaw high capacity magazines would clearly make it harder for sociopaths to efficiently kill dozens of people with little fear of being interrupted in their vile work. Ayers repeats the gun lobby cliché: “it was not the weapon … [but] this … man’s actions” that did the harm. But the kind of weapon the sociopath wields obviously matter. Laughner fired more than 30 rounds in a matter of seconds, killing six and wounding 19. He stopped firing only when he emptied his magazine, and he was attempting to reload when onlookers took advantage of the pause to down him. How much more contained would the damage have been if he’d had to reload after only a few shots?

Ayers calls on another canard, the claim that the negatives that follow from the fact that Americans are essentially swimming in firearms (e.g., that more Americans died between 1965 and 2000 from firearm accidents than were killed in the entire duration of the Vietnam war) are outweighed by the purportedly vast number of gun owners who legally defend themselves from criminal attack. This claim has been thoroughly debunked in the research literature, and the gun lobby’s continued reliance on sources and studies that have been utterly discredited is reprehensible. The truth is that legitimate self-defense use of guns by private citizens is an exceedingly rare phenomenon. Ayers and others who share her beliefs might do well to consult this research, which is ably summarized in David Hemenway’s excellent book “Private Guns, Public Health.” The data actually show that a gun in a typical family home is more likely to produce an accidental self-inflicted wound or death, a suicide, or an act of serious domestic violence than an act of legitimate self-defense.

I do not mean to unduly chastise Ayers, who perhaps is just beginning to explore this issue and certainly has much study ahead of her. But The Bucknellian needs to do better on this deadly serious issue. It is depressing to see how frequently, in this country where education levels are so high, and even in a university like this one where students must excel academically just to gain admission, the falsehoods of the extremist gun lobby are uncritically reiterated in this manner. It is time we started thinking rationally about guns and definitively turned away from mythology.

Alexander Riley

Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology

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