Way of the Gun

Way of the Gun
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Although the new books on gun ownership by Patrick Charles and David Harsanyi both focus on a wide swath of English and U.S. history, the two authors couldn't approach the subject from more different political perspectives. What's more, whereas Harsanyi provides lively, detailed explanations, Charles often just makes assertions.

Charles's approach is encapsulated by this claim: “The history of all laws and jurisprudence suffers from racism and prejudice. This is one of moral consequences of American history in general, and therefore is not limited to the subject matter of gun control.” Armed in America is an advocacy book that mixes interpretations of the Second Amendment with various assertions about gun control policy. For Charles, who has written a previous book on the Second Amendment, the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” really isn't about letting people have guns for self-defense. Although the Second Amendment speaks of “the right of the people,” he interprets the phrase far more narrowly to mean “militiamen.” He calls it “patently absurd” that the British disarmament of Americans at Lexington and Concord inspired passage of the Second Amendment, but offers no more than an endnote that tells you to read another of his books. In fact, the Founding Fathers hoped to prevent such an attempted disarment from ever happening again.

His policy claims, too, are sloppy and filled with simple mistakes. Charles looks at surveys showing that people use guns defensively a couple million times a year and compares them with other surveys indicating that criminals use guns about 430,000 times—implying firearms are used to stop crime “five times” more frequently than they are used to commit crime. He thinks this means that crime is significantly underreported. But guns aren't only used to stop criminals with guns. Criminals tend to target what appear to be physically weak victims, and those victims often use guns defensively against assailants who are not themselves carrying firearms.

Charles asserts that states put their citizens at risk when they allow them to carry concealed handguns without sufficient training, and again he provides no evidence to back up this claim. My research in More Guns, Less Crime (1998) finds no relationship between training requirements and rates of permit revocation. For firearms-related violations, permit holders face revocation rates of thousandths or tens of thousandths of 1%. Indeed, the revocation rate for permit holders is about one seventh of the conviction rate for firearm crimes among police.

Law-abiding citizens who obtain concealed handgun permits know that a lot is at stake if they misuse their gun, and often get training even if their states don't mandate it. In states with so-called “constitutional carry” laws, people are armed in greater numbers now that they don't have to go to the trouble and cost of obtaining permits. But data from at least two of these, Idaho and Kansas, show that despite switching from mandating training to not doing so, the number of people getting training has risen. Charles certainly wouldn't have predicted that.

 

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