Chapter 9. Policy Lessons
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Chapter 9   Policy Lessons You know, terrorism against freedom isn’t just practiced with bombs and box cutters . Anti-freedom elitists in academia, the media, rich foundations and government can do permanent damage to individual freedoms just as real as an insurrection or coup. Together they form a sort of Taliban, an intolerant coalition of fanatics that shelter the anti-freedom alliance so it can thrive and grow. . . . The Constitution is pristine and inviolate. And those who promote that we be less free are political terrorists. If you consider the Constitution less relevant, if you ignore or distort the Second Amendment, if you conspire to make lawful firearms less accessible to lawful citizens. . . . The fact that you were born on American soil won’t mask the fact that you’re an enemy of freedom and a political terrorist. —Wayne LaPierre (National Rifle Association) The public health approach is optimistic, flexible, and pragmatic and has succeeded in many areas. It emphasizes the wide array of policies that can be used to improve the nation’s health. By contrast, gun advocates sometimes appear pessimistic, inflexible, and doctrinaire, seemingly unable to visualize more than a narrow range of punitive policy alternatives. Gun advocates also make constant claims about the benefits of firearms, claims that are not supported by the empirical literature. This chapter discusses the limitations of the gun advocates’ approach and the inaccuracies of their claims. It also discusses the lessons for U.S. firearms policy that can be derived from examining the public health approach used for other products (e.g., tobacco and alcohol), the approach of other developed nations toward regulating firearms, and the effects of our permissive firearm policies on other nations. 177 The Wrong Arguments In 1994, Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA), wrote a book about guns and gun policy. The book contains many inaccuracies, but most telling are the omissions. For example, the book contains only one sentence on suicides, even though more than half of gun deaths are suicides. Of twenty policy proposals concerning firearms, all twenty aim to increase the likelihood and severity of punishment for criminal gun users. Not a single proposal deals with the manufacture of firearms, the distribution of firearms, or even the safe storage of firearms. Other progun writers commonly advocate only those policies that concern the criminal use of firearms (Kates 1990). A usual argument is that policy should be aimed solely at “controlling criminals, not guns” (Kopel 1993, 8). Everyone agrees that we should punish criminals, particularly violent criminals. An issue is whether we need even more severe punishments. The United States already leads the developed world in punishment. While our criminal victimization rates resemble those of other developed countries (except for homicide, which is primarily murder with firearms), we have far higher rates of imprisonment. California’s NRA-backed “three strikes and you’re out” law succeeded mainly in locking up large numbers of nonviolent offenders (Browne and Lichter 2001). Getting even tougher is probably not the answer (Walker 1994). No one suggests that we should not punish violent offenders, particularly those who use guns. But as criminologist Gary Kleck explains, [Get-tough policies] have been tried, carefully evaluated, and found to be either ineffective in producing significant crime reductions or hopelessly expensive. These failed strategies include longer prison terms, mandatory prison terms, use of capital punishment, “selective incapacitation ” of career criminals, increasing police manpower, and reducing procedural restraints on police and prosecutors. While there are many promising alternatives to gun control for reducing violence, the “get tough” approach is not one of them. (1997b, 15) Whether or not Kleck has accurately summarized the literature, he points out that many other policies besides punishing “bad guys” can reduce our firearm injury problem. This book focuses on those other policies that directly involve guns. 178 PRIVATE GUNS, PUBLIC HEALTH If we want to reduce lethal violence and injury—if we want to prevent violenceratherthanjustassignblameorpunishindividualsafterithasoccurred — we must consider a wide variety of policies. For motor vehicles, for alcohol, for chainsaws, or for any other potentially dangerous commodity, it would be stupid (and irresponsible) for policymakers to refuse to consider ways of changing the product and the environment to reduce morbidity and mortality . Gun proponents are often blind to any policies that don’t deal with the gun user. If making gun assaults illegal and severely punishing the “bad guys” who use guns in assaults doesn’t work, they are left with no other policy recommendations...