It’s the Handguns, Stupid!
Way back in 1968, a Presidential Commission under Milton Eisenhower (Ike’s younger brother) was put together to study the causes and prevention of violence following the large-scale riots and disturbances that broke out after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Commission published its final report on December 10, 1969, and the 337-page document included a chapter, ‘Firearms and Violence in American Life’ co-authored by our good friend Franklin Zimring, who now teaches law at Boalt Hall on the Berkeley campus.
I have now tried to upload this report to the media file on my website four times and the upload has failed every time. But if you would like a copy of the document, just send me an email (email@example.com) and I’ll send it right out to you.
The other co-author of this chapter is a very distinguished attorney, George Newton. The Commission staff also included Marvin Wolfgang, who without a doubt was the most brilliant criminologist ever to hold an academic position in the United States.
The chapter starts off with the following statement: “The availability of guns contributes substantially to violence in American society.” The idea that more guns = more violence is an accepted cornerstone (thanks to David Hemenway) of current gun-control narrative. And the report also underscores today’s argument for stricter gun control when it notes that the proportion of guns used in violent crime tends to parallel how many guns are sold to the public at any point in time.
The report then goes on to note that Americans are increasingly buying guns to be used for self-defense. But this finding is followed by this: “From the standpoint of the individual householder, then, the self-defense firearm appears to be a dangerous investment.” And what Zimring and Newton are referring to here is the degree to which guns are used for self-protection to a much lesser degree than they figure in injuries within the home.
The whole notion of access to guns as a cause of fatal injuries — homicide, suicide — was the finding of two articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1992 and 1993. These two articles not only inaugurated the attention and concern of public health research on guns and gun violence, but also were the primary reason the CDC stopped funding gun research for nearly twenty-five years.
Zimring and Newton made the same argument about guns as risks to public health in 1969.
Finally, in its conclusion, the report notes that “It is the ready availability of the handgun, so often a weapon of crime and so infrequently a sporting arm, which is the most serious part of the current firearms problem in this country. The time has come to bring the handgun under reasonable control.”
Here is where the work by Zimring and Newton establishes a very clear standard for how to think about and implement effective gun control. Note, in particular, the acknowledgement that handguns are ‘infrequently’ used as ‘sporting’ arms.
How many Americans have been victims of gun homicides since Zimring, and Newton’s chapter was published more than fifty years ago? I think that 700,000 would be a good guess. How many Americans have been seriously injured because someone took a shot at them but didn’t aim straight? Maybe 3,500,000, give or take a couple of hundred thousand more or less.
These numbers exist because we are the only country in the entire world which pretends that handguns designed and issued to the military beginning in 1911 and continuing to the present day, are considered, legally-speaking, to be ‘sporting arms.’ Zimring and Newton figured this one out in 1969. What have all my friends in public health gun research been doing since that time?
They have been creating, affirming, and reaffirming a patently false narrative that we would not suffer from 100,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun assaults every year if everyone would just lock up their guns. This is what my friends in Gun-control Nation mean when they talk about ‘responsible’ gun ownership, okay?
The argument made by Zimring and Newton in 1969 and indisputably supported by research published in 1992 and 1993 did not qualify gun violence as being the result of unlocked guns. It is the presence of handguns designed as non-sporting weapons which, to quote the 1969 report, doesn’t cause’ gun violence but ‘facilitates’ it to a degree which otherwise would not occur.
It’s really time for my friends in Gun-control Nation to drop their Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the issue of gun violence and start developing strategies for controlling guns which Zimring and Newton brought to our attention more than a half-century ago.
Or to paraphrase a statement from Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign — it’s the handguns, stupid. The handguns.