The following article is a chapter in the new paperback edition of Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns. It is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other website, datafile base, conference, news group, or email list, without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1999 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
They thought that sort of thing happened only in America, didn't they? Sure, in Killeen, Texas, you could have a madman with a gun start randomly shooting dozens of people, then turn the gun on himself. In Stockton, California, you could have a whacko with an "assault" rifle go into a school and start massacring innocent children.
But not in Dunblane, Scotland, for God's sake! They had gun control laws so strict that Sarah Brady of the American Handgun Control, Inc., could only dream about them, and use the low British gun-homicide rate in their fund-raising letters. Maybe the Americans hadn't outgrown the Wild West, but this was supposed to be civilization.
It has taken the deaths of sixteen children at the hands of a madman, who then used the gun to kill himself also, to alert the townspeople of Dunblane, Scotland that irrational violence doesn't respect national borders, or the Marquess of Queensberry rules, or sweet innocence itself.
Had enough yet?
How many more innocent people must die this way before those who count on the goodness in people to keep them safe wake up to some fundamental truths about the human species?
We are not good by nature. Character resides in the individual capacity for choosing between good and evil, right and wrong, self- control or its opposites, tyranny and dissipation. There are wild people among us who will not exercise self-restraint, and we must live with the expectation that at a time and place of their choosing, not of ours, they will explode upon us.
So if you are through playing "if only" and "if I had my way" with public policy, are you ready to take a hard look at our options of how to deal effectively with random, savage violence against the most vulnerable among us?
Sarah Brady might as well pack up shop now. Stricter gun-control laws than she has been fighting for were in place in Scotland, and they were unable to keep a resolute madman from getting a gun.
We can always try to solve the problem of lawlessness by becoming a police state. We can surround ourselves with police and throw more people into prison, throwing away the key after them. In Japan, there is no constitutional Bill of Rights which prevents the police from searching your home at random, holding you as long as they like before trial, and torturing a confession out of you. The criminal conviction rate in Japan approaches 100%, most of them by "confessions." And it works, if preventing crime is your only goal. The Japanese homicide rate is a fraction of ours, as Sarah Brady will eagerly tell you.
But the Japanese suicide rate is twice the American rate -- high enough that the combined homicide-suicide rate in both countries is the same -- and included in these Japanese suicides are incidents where a father kills his whole family then kills himself -- not too different from the gunman's actions in Dunblane. Laws and police can't frighten a man who doesn't expect to be alive by the time the police show up, anyway.
Or, we can get used to the idea that there are terrorists living among us, political or otherwise, and the Framers of the Constitution of the United States understood that when they wrote the Second Amendment. It 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."
The militia the authors of the Second Amendment were talking about wasn't a National Guard or a police department. It was every decent adult who knew how to use a gun. There are about 70 million Americans today who own guns. A substantial number of them are qualified with handguns, and if well-intentioned idealists hadn't written laws subverting the intent of the realists who wrote our constitution, these gun-owners could be carrying their guns with them wherever they go. And, yes. Some of these gunowners are even schoolteachers, who could conceal a gun on them while they are in the classroom.
A few weeks ago in Israel, a terrorist drove his car into a crowd of civilians, intent on mass murder. The Israelis are far more pragmatic than their Jewish cousins here, many of whom support civilian disarmament as public policy. When the terrorist tried to kill innocent civilians, the innocent civilians took out their guns and defended themselves. Result: living innocent people and a dead terrorist. It's happened in Israel before, in Jerusalem in April, 1984 and in Ashod in February, 1994. The results in all these cases show that our Founding Fathers knew what they were doing: when innocent people are armed so that they can protect themselves, those with the intent to commit random acts of violence don't live long enough to get away with it.
A popular saying among gun-owners is a quote from the late science-fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein: "An armed society is a polite society." That is true, but I think Heinlein was thinking of Switzerland, which has had five centuries of being an armed society to eliminate the "impolite."
In the meantime, it is becoming increasingly obvious that an armed society is the only one which stands a chance of dealing with the terrorism that a gun in the wrong hands can create.