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Perception vs. reality

By Geoff Metcalf



For years I have been saying, "... some people just don't want to be confused with facts which contradict their preconceived opinions." Whenever I use that line in an interview, as I did recently with Ann Coulter, invariably the response is epiphany-like. "Oh, yeah!" " Absolutely!" " Bingo!"

Nowhere is the above observation more on point than with the national debate over gun control. Notwithstanding the fact that we defenders of the Bill of Rights have a huge arsenal of facts on our side, we fail to win the hearts and minds of the American people. The facts are abundant. Reportedly up to 500,000 Americans use a firearm to defend themselves from acts of violence every year. However, no one knows how often guns are used to thwart crime for a variety of reasons. "Almost crimes" don't have a block on the FBI's annual statistical analysis. People who prevent a crime by merely brandishing a gun (a crime in many states) don't tell. Dr. John Lott in his book "More Guns, Less Crime" documents the exhaustive statistical analysis that proves the axiom of his book's title. Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true, "Fewer guns, more crime" is equally true. Consider those cities with the most draconian anti-gun laws: Washington, D.C. and New York City have harsh penalties for those who would presume to think the Second Amendment really means "shall not be infringed." However, despite virtual prohibition of gun ownership, crime seems to be booming. To personify my opening bromide look to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry who observed "... except for the murders, D.C. is one of the safest ... " Duh!

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. Australia banned guns and armed crime skyrocketed (see http://www.geoffmetcalf.com/aus.html). Vermont eschews legislation restricting guns, and crime remains low. Some will argue, "sure, Vermont ... you can't compare maple syrup poachers to crack dealers." OK, look at Richmond, Virginia. Elaine Shannon writes in today's Time magazine (not exactly a bastion of right-wing radical propaganda) that a couple of years back, Richmond had the second highest homicide rate in the country. Until U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey, teamed up with Richmond's Police Chief Jerry Oliver, and did something so simple, and so effective, that reportedly the anti-constitutional would-be controllers have their collective panties in a bunch. Operation Exile has significantly reduced armed crime by (get this) enforcing laws already on the books, and by using enhancements to target the criminals, not the tools. "Murders dropped sharply, from 140 in 1997 to 94 in 1998 and 32 for the first six months of 1999. Armed robberies showed a similar decline. As of June 18, the Exile task force had won long prison sentences for 279 gun-carrying criminals" Shannon writes.

How did project Exile do that? Vigorous and consistent enforcement of already existing laws. When Richmond cops find a gun on a drug dealer, user, convicted felon or suspect in a violent crime. ChaChing! ... a mandatory sentence of at least five years without parole -- longer for repeated or aggravated offenses. Guess what? Criminals got the message. This isn't brain surgery. "Doctor, it hurts when I go like that," the patient said. "Don't go like that," the doctor said.

I occasionally get mail from a guy on death row in San Quentin. He recently suggested he was starting a new organization "Criminals for Gun Control". What he wrote was obvious, (and documented by Dr. Lott, Kleck and others). Bad guys don't like victims who 'might' be armed. Bad guys want easy targets. They want low risk, high return. Bad guys don't want to become a paragraph in the NRA's "Armed Citizen" monthly feature.

Ann Coulter is that very attractive long haired blonde you often see defending the conservative view on assorted talking head TV programs. She might weigh 95 pounds with wet hair and lots of makeup. She had one line in her recent George magazine column that crystallized reality when she noted that without a gun, there is a name for people like her ... "prey." Coulter noted that in the District of Criminals it is a felony to carry a firearm without a permit. Therefore, law-abiding folks don't carry guns. Lawbreakers DO. In fact, armed muggings can and do take place in broad daylight. Contrast that to Florida or Oregon where many law-abiding citizens DO lawfully carry guns.

A few years ago a lawyer friend was going through an especially acrimonious business breakup. His former partner was angry, unstable and threatening. After a 3 a.m. knock at the door and abusive shouting match, my friend confided his very real fears. "I don't want to get shot in my underwear in my own home." He said. In a strange role reversal, I advised him who to notify, how to bridle his former colleague, and I loaned him a shotgun. It was an 870 Remington Wingmaster. That is a pump action shotgun. I told him if his taunter made a return early morning visit to 1) call 911 2) don't answer the door, and 3) work the action of the shotgun. "Don't put a shell in it ... just stand away from the door and jack the pump." He never had to do that because the problem went away.

However, several months later he moved. He and his new wife heard sounds of someone trying to break into his garage. He retrieved my shotgun from his closet and told his wife to "Call 911." He then went to the window and opened it slightly as the would-be burglar pounded away at a lock. He then turned the shotgun receiver toward the open window and pumped it once. The bad guy reportedly froze for a brief beat, before a hasty retreat that supposedly resembled a cartoon character. When the police arrived and heard the story, they laughed ... hard. The point is, criminals don't like, and avoid armed citizens.

This whole gun control debate that rages is more a function of form than substance. Those who refuse to be influenced by facts that contradict their preconceived opinions lose any debate on facts. Oh, sometimes they make up false facts, but those are easily debunked. The facts cannot be denied. However, the facts can, and ARE ignored. We lose to anti-constitutional/anti-common sense dilettantes like Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and their legion of liars for two reasons. First, we allow them to frame the debate and seize any and all tragedy, as empirical proof guns are bad. Cars kill a lot more than guns, but no sane politician (perhaps an oxymoron) would frontally attack Detroit. I could kill someone in about four seconds with a number 2 pencil, but students are required to have a number 2 pencil (despite the gross discrimination against number 1 and number 4 pencils). Most significant, however, is the role media plays in reporting. All the studies indicate school violence continues to go down. Statistics of kids taking guns to school is down. All statistical data (those damn annoying facts again) proves gun violence has been, and continues to decline. Yet the media coverage of aberrational, atypical acts of violence has increased 700 percent.

The Cowboy Guide to Life notes "There are three kinds of men. Those that learn by reading. Those that learn by observation. And the rest of them who have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.