© 1995 Karen Selick
The Legitimate Uses of Firearms
An edited version of this article first appeared in the January, 1995 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 The Legitimate Uses of Firearms

If we applied the logic used by gun control advocates to other objects, there are an awful lot of things we would have to ban: knives, cars, boats, swimming pools, bicycles, household cleaning products, and aspirin, for example.  All of these things are instrumental in causing many Canadian deaths each year--some by murder, some by accident and some by suicide.

About 36 percent of all homicides in Canada involve guns.  By coincidence, about 34 percent of all homicides in Canada involve family members.  One might conclude that families are just slightly less dangerous than guns.  

As far as accidents are concerned, the comparisons are even more disconcerting.  For each child under the age of nine killed in a gun accident, there are 39 who die by accidental drowning or suffocation, and 57 who die in car accidents.

Ah yes, but there's a difference, say the gun control advocates: swimming pools, boats, cars and even knives have "legitimate uses"--purposes that don't involve killing people.  Guns, they say, have only one purpose: to kill.

Sportsmen point out that guns do have other legitimate uses--target shooting and game hunting, for example--but gun control advocates heap scorn on this argument.  Mere recreation can't outweigh lost lives, they say.  However, if you apply this recreation-is-expendable reasoning to other objects, you would still have a strong case for banning backyard swimming pools; they are rarely used for anything but recreation.  Similarly, cars, boats and bicycles could be banned for recreational use, since that is the context in which many, if not most, of the related deaths occur. 

But recreation is not the only legitimate use for firearms--even though it is the only one that most Canadians dare talk about without attracting suspicious stares.  There are two other legitimate and important justifications for private gun ownership, and there are serious researchers who have turned up some thought-provoking facts to support the right to own guns.

Gary Mauser is a professor at Simon Fraser University who believes that gun ownership is justified for the purpose of defending oneself, one's family and one's property.  His surveys of the Canadian public show that Canadians use firearms for self-defence approximately 62,000 times per year.  Approximately half of these incidents are defences against animal threats; the other half, against humans.  Not all defences involve actually shooting the source of the threat, or even firing the gun.  Sometimes, merely brandishing it is enough to induce a retreat.

If guns were either banned or banished to central storage sites, these 62,000 annual incidents of self defence could not occur.  There is a good chance that some lives would be lost as a result.  Mauser points out that if only one out of every 40 defensive uses of a gun saves a life, this would be more than the 1,500 lives that are lost each year to gun-crimes (about 300) and gun-suicides (about 1,200).

But even grizzly bears and freelance criminals are not the worst evils in the world.  The number of people who have been killed by common criminals fades into insignificance when compared with the number who have been killed by that most dangerous and powerful of entities, government.  The ultimate purpose for private firearms ownership is to protect society from tyranny and genocide.

An organization called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Inc. (which bills itself as "America's Aggressive Civil Rights Organization") has done extensive research on seven major twentieth century genocides.  JPFO concludes that gun control is a necessary, albeit not a sufficient, condition for genocide.  (JPFO defines genocide to include mass murder based on political views, not just racial or religious factors.)

Lethal Laws, by JPFO researchers Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman and Alan M. Rice, contains the authentic original texts--with English translations--of gun control laws from Ottoman Turkey, Soviet Russia, Germany, China, Cambodia, Guatemala and Uganda.  Scholars estimate that some 56 million people died in genocides in these countries.  JPFO says this could not have occurred, or at least not on the same horrifying scale, without gun control.

In all seven cases studied, gun control laws were in place before the genocide occurred.  In five cases, it was not the tyrannical government itself that had enacted gun controls, but a previous, "benevolent" regime, sometimes acting under the theory that such measures would reduce crime.

For example, it was the Weimar Republic, not the Nazi government, that enacted gun registration laws in Germany in 1928.  When Hitler came to power in 1933, it was easy for him to start systematically disarming Jews, Gypsies and other enemies.  House-to-house searches, which might have alarmed the public, were unnecessary.  He just had to consult the registration records.

The unique thing about JPFO's members is that they are adamantly opposed to some of the milder forms of gun control that many gun enthusiasts are willing to compromise on.  For example, they oppose gun registration because it assists in eventual confiscation.  They oppose controls on military-style firearms because these are precisely the type of weapons that private individuals must have to make their governments think twice about embarking on a war against their own people.

Their book makes fascinating, but chilling, reading.  To learn more, contact JPFO, Inc., 2872 South Wentworth Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53207.

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June 07, 2000