The following is an excerpt from J. Neil Schulman's book, SELF CONTROL Not Gun Control, published in 1995 by Synapse--Centurion. Reproduction in computer file and message bases is permitted for informational purposes only. Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. All other rights reserved.


by J. Neil Schulman

Most of what you hear about guns on TV and radio, and most of what you read about guns in prominent magazines and newspapers, is distorted to the point of lying, by writers who have a prejudice against private ownership of guns by the American public.

Most journalists today write as if the NRA--usually lumped in with the Tobacco Institute--represents only the commercial interests of "merchants of death" who don't care how many lives are lost--particularly the lives of our young people--just so long as they get to keep selling their product.

So let's get that myth out of the way right now.

The National Rifle Association of America is a 124-year-old organization almost entirely financed by the dues and small contributions of its 3.2 million members, not by money from the gun manufacturers. In addition to the NRA's other programs, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action lobbies for the right to keep and bear arms not only of 70 million current American gun owners, but of anyone who might want to exercise that right in the future.

This media hostility to the NRA permeates the entire debate about guns and violence in this country, and allows lie to be piled upon lie. When NRA held a news conference to tell the media that a new Luntz-Weber poll showed that most Americans don't think gun control will reduce crime or violence, the room was empty. When Handgun Control, Inc., called a news conference around the same time to discuss the results of a Louis Harris poll, the room was jammed with reporters and TV cameras, and the media reported Handgun Control's interpretation of the poll results as if it were a papal encyclical.

At some point, you just have to ask yourself the following question: who knows more about guns--the millions of NRA members who own them, handle them on a regular basis, and have taken its safety courses ... or journalists who talk and write about guns for television networks and national magazines, but are often afraid even to be in the same room with one?

As a comparison, would you believe a writer who spent his life railing about how dangerous automobiles were, but who had never sat behind the steering wheel of a car? Why on earth would you believe a critic who spent his life telling you how to improve automotive safety but who had never bothered to get an engineering degree--and who dismissed the opinions of real automotive experts who pointed out the critic's incompetence and bias, sneering that the experts were "just mouthpieces for the automobile manufacturers' lobby"?

The press accuses the NRA of being the most powerful lobby in America. God only knows that with our rights to maintain the means to defend ourselves hanging by a thread, I pray this were true.

Part of the reason for the media's hostility to civilian firearms may be ideological disagreement with our philosophical premises. But part of it is without doubt the realities of how news collection and reporting works day-to-day.

The problem is what sociologists call "dark side phenomena": events that happen in a way that they can't be easily seen or calculated.

It's the classic problem of how you would go about proving that an extraterrestrial with an invisibility cloak is hiding behind a door. When the door is closed, you can't detect him because the door is in the way. As soon as the door starts to open, he turns on his invisibility cloak, so you still can't see him. It's logically impossible to prove that the extraterrestrial isn't there, so the burden of proof falls on those who assert that he is. But without either the extraterrestrial's active co-operation, or an indirect means of confirming its presence despite its proven ability to remain hidden, this is darned difficult to do.

That's why it's taken so long for criminologists to prove that there are two to three times as many incidents every year where a firearm is used in defense against a criminal than there are incidents where a firearm is involved in harming a innocent person.

Gary Kleck, Ph.D., professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, is considered the dean of criminologists on firearms issues by his colleagues in the American Society of Criminology, who in 1993 awarded Kleck its coveted Hindelang Award for his book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (Aldine de Gruyter, 1991). Kleck's unimpeachable liberal credentials--he's a registered Democrat and a member of Common Cause and Amnesty International, as examples--precludes any possibility of pro-conservative or pro- NRA bias. He takes no funding from any partisan in the gun-control debate.

In Point Blank, Kleck had already analyzed a dozen studies conducted by other researchers, and had concluded that American gun owners used their firearms at least one million times each year in defense against criminals. But Kleck wasn't satisfied with the research methods used in some of these studies, so in Spring, 1993 he and his colleague Marc Gertz, Ph.D., conducted a National Self-Defense Survey of 4,978 households.

I interviewed Kleck about the not-yet-published results of this survey for the September 19, 1993 Orange County Register; it's also included in Stopping Power.

What Kleck's National Self-Defense Survey discovered is that even excluding all uses of firearms by police, military, or security personnel, an American gun owner uses a privately owned firearm 2.45 million times each year in an actual defense against a criminal. About 1.9 million of these defenses use handguns, the rest some other firearm--a shotgun or a rifle.

It's this lack of dead bodies for the police to find which is the main reason that for every time you see on TV or read in a newspaper about a gun being used to defend someone, you are seeing hundreds of cases where a firearm is used in an incident of wrongful violence.

Kleck's data shows that in only 14% of the gun defenses reported in the National Self-Defense Survey was the gun in question even fired. In only 8% of gun defenses did the survey respondent believe that he or she had even wounded a criminal, much less killed one--and this might be a vastly high estimate of criminals shot by their potential victims, given the relatively small number of actual justifiable or excusable homicides recorded each year--between 1500 and 2800, according to Kleck.

The question remains: why aren't crime victims reporting their gun defenses to the police, so that these incidents can find their way onto the evening news?

The answer is the prejudice in our society against gun ownership itself. Most of the crime in this country takes place in large cities, and for most of this century, city-dwellers have been either socially discouraged or legally prohibited from carrying a firearm for protection.

The New York City case of Bernhard Goetz in the mid-1980's was a perfect example.

After one grand jury failed to indict Goetz, a white, middle-class victim of a previous armed robbery, for shooting and critically wounding several African-American teenagers whom Goetz said had threatened him with a sharpened screwdriver on a subway car, the New York prosecutor submitted the case to a second grand jury, which did indict Goetz. Goetz was acquitted of all charges except illegally carrying the handgun he had used to defend himself, and served jail time on those gun charges. Additionally, even though Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality--now an NRA director--sided with Goetz, Goetz's action was portrayed in the media as racially motivated.

After seeing what happened to Bernie Goetz for carrying the means to defend himself, is there any wonder why most people decide not to tell the police that they had to use a gun to save their lives?

Every month, news clippings about gun defenses are sent in by readers of the NRA's magazines, The American Rifleman and The American Hunter, and many are published in "The Armed Citizen" column in these magazines. Many of these news clippings are from smaller newspapers, or from newspapers in rural regions where gun ownership is more accepted. Major newspapers in Democratic-party-controlled cities hardly ever report on incidents where the use of a gun has a beneficial result, even when the incident deserves a front-page headline.

Two months after the much-reported October 16, 1991 incident where a madman randomly murdered 23 lunchers, and wounded another 19 at a restaurant in Killeen, Texas, postal clerk Thomas Glenn Terry, who had a license to carry his concealed .45 semi-auto pistol, saved 20 hostages in an Anniston, Alabama restaurant from takeover robbers--one of whom had murdered a motel clerk just a few days earlier. No TV network news program mentioned it. A madman with a gun is news. A hero with one isn't.

The same thing happened again on September 18, 1992, when ex-prizefighter Randy Shields, a part-time bodyguard with a rare license to carry a concealed .380 semi-auto pistol, saved a 4 n 20 Pie Shop in Studio City, California from a gang of takeover robbers who had already started shooting wildly at customers and employees. The story wasn't reported outside Southern California--and the anti-gun Los Angeles Times buried the story in its sports section.

This distortion of how firearms are actually used in our country is only the beginning of the myths the anti-gun media creates: cop-killer bullets that were sold as police rounds and never killed a cop; "Rhino" hollowpoint bullets which, defying all laws of wound ballistics, are reported as being able to penetrate police body armor; deadly "assault weapons" which hardly ever end up in police evidence lockers; "invisible plastic guns" which contain over a pound of metal and X-ray identically to all other handguns--this list is almost endless.

The media gleefully report every case where a waiting-period law supposedly kept a gun out of the hands of a criminal--but they never bother checking to find out how many of these criminals who were denied a gun purchase were later arrested in possession of a gun they'd stolen or bought on the black-market anyway.

They edit TV footage to misrepresent the accuracy and firepower of "assault weapons"--to make them look more deadly than they actually are.

The news reporters terrorize you with daily shooting reports to make you afraid of guns, then the editorialists and columnists call you paranoid for thinking the danger is great enough that you should consider keeping a gun to defend yourself from all these armed criminals.

As I said, it depends on whom you're going to trust: the people at the NRA who have 124 years of institutional experience dealing with firearms, or a bunch of ignorant, politically biased pundits who believe the lies they tell each other.

Isn't it your right to demand that the people who report the news make the effort to get the real facts about guns and gun control, so you can make a rational decision for yourself?

Or are you willing to have the American media continue to manipulate and lie to you?

In the months following the November 8, 1994 elections--which even President Clinton attributed as a defeat of anti-gun Democrats because of NRA's opposition--the attacks on the NRA by the Clinton administration and its media choirboys have been relentless. They've even sunk so low as to try to blame the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building on the "extremism" of NRA's opposition to their gun-control schemes.

But there are many up-sides to this sort of political attack. The first is simply that the more the Democrats attack the NRA, the more they are showing that the NRA is a potent force reshaping the American political landscape.

The second is that it's making the gun issue a litmus test for both parties. The more pro-gun Democrats are being pressured to ignore their pro-NRA constituents and follow the Democrats' anti-NRA leadership, the more Democrats are looking to get out of their party and look for a more congenial political home. And the more anti-gun Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani and John Warner endorse Democrats--and the more liberal Republicans like George Bush and Pete Wilson jump on the anti-NRA bandwagon--the more apparent it will become to the Republican leadership that anti-NRA Republicans can't be trusted to support Republican candidates ... and when Republicans support gun rights, the NRA can.

It's your right to keep and bear arms that the NRA is defending. It's possibly your life--or that of a loved one or neighbor--that's hanging in the balance.

While not even the Tobacco lobby would dare to claim that their product saves lives, the NRA--through both its firearms safety programs and its support for gun-owners rights--does.

And in my view, that makes the NRA one of the best things America has going for it.

Go to Self Control Not Gun Control Display Page

Return to Recent Writings.

Return to The World According to J. Neil Schulman.