Karen Selick replies:
In writing "Off the mark," I tried to address all the major arguments in favor of gun control, both from a theoretical perspective and an empirical one, using logical argument first and then backing up each point with the best statistics I could find. I don't know whether to feel vindicated or frustrated that most of the correspondents chose to attack my statistics (often relying on undocumented assertions to refute facts that were painstakingly compiled by respected researchers), rather than my theoretical arguments. Did they find the arguments unassailable, or did they just not bother to read the whole article?
Mr. Outridge, for example, says Gary Mauser used "deliberately leading
questions to elicit the responses he wanted." Hardly. The question asked
in Professor Mauser's survey was: "Aside from military service or police
work, in the past five years, have you yourself, or a member of your household,
used a gun for self-protection, or for protection of property at home, at
work, or elsewhere, even if it wasn't fired?" Only 3.1 per cent of the respondents
answered yes. Obviously, the other 96.9 per cent managed to find the intestinal
fortitude not to be beguiled into a false "yes" by this oh-so-seductive question.
Mr. Outridge also questions the accuracy of the Wright and Rossi
survey of convicted criminals. He may be right to doubt the veracity of answers
given by scofflaws, but any inaccuracy would work in the opposite direction
from what he suggests. The researchers were not in a position to reduce the
sentences or grant any other boon to survey participants. Prison culture
being what it is, it seems far more likely that inmates would want to deny
having been intimidated by their potential victims, lest word gets around
within the jailhouse community that they are sissies. Besides, the group
of respondents was already skewed toward an underestimate, rather than an
overestimate, of deterrence: The guys who had landed in jail obviously come
from a segment of the criminal population that had not been deterred as frequently
as the more cautious criminals still walking the streets.
The data from Great Britain were attacked by both Mr. Outridge and
Mr. McQueen. Unfortunately, I don't have space here to address all their
points in detail, but the graphs demonstrate clearly that the drop in legal
gun ownership in Great Britain has not affected either the gun homicide rate
or the violent crime rate. If it were indeed true that ordinary, licensed
gun owners often reach for a gun and kill on the spur of the moment, then
surely a reduction in licensed gun ownership on the order of 20 per cent
should have shown up at least as a blip on these graphs. It didn't. And,
no, Mr. McQueen, I did not misinterpret the phrase "firearm robbery rate."
The information from the U.K. Home Office clearly refers to robberies in
which the perpetrators use guns, not in which guns are stolen. Think about
it, sir: if the number of guns available to be stolen had dropped, why would
you expect the number actually stolen to have increased?
Mr. McQueen also expressed skepticism about the "break and enter"
statistics. These data came from David B. Kopel's book The Samurai, The
Mountie and The Cowboy (Prometheus Books, 1992), probably the most authoritative
book yet published, comparing the gun control laws and gun crime rates in
However, there is plenty of other evidence that criminals are deterred
from committing crimes by the belief that their victims might be armed. In
1967, 2,500 women in the Orlando, Florida, area were trained by local police
to use guns. The program was given repeated front-page coverage by the Orlando
Sentinel newspaper. In the ensuing year, the rape rate in Orlando fell by
88 per cent, while remaining constant in the rest of the state. Burglary
in Orlando also declined. A similar experiment occurred in Kennesaw, Georgia,
in 1980, after an ordinance was passed requiring homeowners to keep at least
one gun in the house. Residential burglaries dropped by 89 per cent, compared
with a 10.4 per cent decrease for Georgia as a whole.
Despite all the contrary evidence contained in my article, Mr. Thérien
persists in believing the myth that "many, many incidents with guns involve
ordinary people in extraordinary situations." Unfortunately for him, the
examples he gave prove exactly the opposite: that those who react with extreme
violence to an ordinary situation are highly unusual individuals. Marc Lepine
had been beaten by his father (who also beat Lepine's mother) and then abandoned
by him at the age of seven. Lepine's application to join the Canadian Armed
Forces had been rejected because he exhibited antisocial behavior. This is
not a description of an average guy.
As for Valery Fabrikant, the evidence at his trial showed that he
had serious personality disorders, including paranoia and narcissism. He
had made unmistakable threats of an intention to shoot various perceived
enemies as far back as three years earlier. Two Concordia University administrators
had had their homes placed under security surveillance for their protection.
Security guards had also been posted at the offices of two staff members
in the months preceding the shooting, and a panic button had been installed
in one office. The police had been notified at least twice of potential violence,
but had failed to lay charges or take steps to seize Fabrikant's firearms
– something they could legally have done in the circumstances. At the time
of the shooting, Fabrikant was facing contempt of court charges in connection
with a civil lawsuit. An ordinary guy? I don't think so.
Would gun control have stopped an obsessed man like Fabrikant? Guns
have been manufactured by hand in jails and in peasants' cottages in Third
World countries. As a professor of engineering, Fabrikant would have had
little difficulty making his own weapon. More likely, he'd have bought an
illegal one. They are plentiful and cheap in Montreal. Or perhaps he'd have
used a knife or baseball bat.
The only letter that attempted to address my theoretical arguments
was Mr. Cowling's. Unfortunately, he errs in thinking that it is necessary
for every member of the population to be armed in order to achieve a deterrent
effect. Since Florida began issuing concealed carry permits in late 1987,
fewer than two per cent of the population have obtained permits, yet a murder
rate that was 57 per cent higher than the rest of the U.S. fell to below
the national average. Mr. Cowling, you and I might choose to be free riders
in the crime deterrence game, but you must let others be free to choose differently.
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