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Guns as Evil Talismans


Gun-control activists sound desperate. They are now reduced to recycling failed old arguments to persuade Americans to give up their guns. The New York Times has dredged up depositions from a 15-year-old rash of unsuccessful lawsuits against gun manufacturers in an apparent attempt to embarrass or discredit the industry (see my previous NRO report here). Inadvertently, their effort has spotlighted the firearms-company executives’ integrity and courage in the face of large-scale abusive litigation.

The gun controllers’ strategy of litigating their political opponents into bankruptcy with ridiculous legal theories is understandable, however unjust. In these lawsuits, various big-city mayors and state officials backed by private gun-control advocates have condemned guns as public nuisances. They fault manufacturers for the deaths the guns “caused” — an audacious claim, to put it politely. After all, the presidents of General Motors and Honda have not been dragged into court and accused of failing to restrain people from speeding or driving drunk.

Gun-company executives, grilled by hostile attorneys, bristled at the plaintiffs’ accusation that their products are inherently evil. They rightly pointed out that they provide a legal product, and they have neither control nor responsibility for persons who misuse that product for criminal purposes.

More important, here we have a crucial difference between the sides in the gun debate. I will leave it to my psychiatrist colleagues to ponder the psychodynamics of gun controllers’ talismanic obsession with the gun as the cause of “gun violence,” rather than the person using that gun. But it seems very likely that liberal Democrats’ blaming the gun instead of the criminal is partially motivated by a need to avoid offending the substantial fraction of their supporters living in our biggest, most crime-ridden cities. The mindset that guns cause crime is a recurring and potent force, as evidenced by countless legislative attempts to outlaw various hardware features of guns, presumably in order to make them less likely to misbehave.

I spent much of today in target practice at the range. My 5.56 mm modern sporting rifle, aside from its wantonly placing a few rounds outside the bull’s eye, behaved in a civilized manner. It did not jump off the table in search of an opportunity to commit gun violence. And yet my well-behaved rifle is now being targeted by California legislators as an “assault weapon,” our state Department of Justice’s official name for these popular rifles. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report finding that less than 4 percent of firearm murders are committed with any kind of rifle does not deter the gun prohibitionists’ efforts to outlaw them.

Gun prohibitionists are able to ignore the tens of millions of American gun owners who manage to get through every day without using their guns to commit a crime. Consequently, they cannot see the political opposition to new laws that would effectively turn those good gun owners into criminals with a stroke of the governor’s or president’s pen. This selective blindness may explain their genuine shock at the failure of President Obama’s recent all-out push to enact new federal gun-control measures.

In any case, the public generally gets that criminals, not guns, are the problem. And that is a ray of hope that reason will eventually prevail in the ongoing gun-control debate.

— Timothy Wheeler is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.


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