Analysis by David Morgan, The Asheville Tribune

According to John L. Lott, a University of Chicago law and economics fellow, every product has illegitimate uses and undesirable consequences. In 1996 in the U. S., car accidents killed 43,000 people and injured 3.4 million; 959 children under the age of 15 drowned in pools and while boating; 500 children died in bicycle accidents, and more than 1,000 children died from residential fires. No one is yet proposing that state or city governments should recoup medical costs or police salaries by suing automobile companies, pool builders or makers of home heaters. But suing manufacturers for any costs cities incur from gun injuries and deaths is exactly the theory behind the lawsuits by Chicago, New Orleans and other cities against gun makers.

The New Orleans suit seeks to hold gun makers liable because accidental deaths are foreseeable and not enough was done to make guns safe. It is particularly concerned with accidental deaths involving children and cites 3 cases in New Orleans since 1992. Nationally, 30 children under 5 and 200 under 15 died from accidental gun deaths in 1996. Given that some 80 million people own approximately 220 million guns, gun owners must be very responsible, or such gun accidents would be much more frequent.

Lott goes on to report that Americans also use guns defensively about 2.5 million times a year, and 98% of the time merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack. The chances of serious injury from an attack are 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for those resisting with guns. In addition a 1996 survey by the National Association of Chiefs of Police found that 93% of 15,000 chiefs and sheriffs questioned, thought that law-abiding citizens should be able to buy guns for self-defense.

It has also been shown that in every instance where the citizens insisted on their right to carry a concealed weapon that the crime rates in those areas fell dramatically once law abiding citizens exercised their right to do so. Nowhere did crime rates go up. Carnage was predicted when Oregon enacted a law mandating that citizens be granted a carry license after background checks. As a result 2,200 carry permits were issued in Portland in the first seven months of 1990, compared to only 17 the previous year. Homicide fell 33 percent, the second largest drop of any major city.

The adage currently being promoted that more gun controls mean less crime is simply false. Gun controls have rarely proven to be effective in reducing homicide rates. Puerto Rico has relied on drastic gun control provisions requiring a range of background checks and permits which take up to 1- 1/2 years to get. Yet, Puerto Rican police report a record 80 killings in December and 20 in the first two weeks of 1999. In 1998, the island experienced 648 murders among its 3.8 million residents for a resounding homicide rate of 17 per 100,000 residents. All that despite the islands 18,000 police officers. Our cities in the U.S. with the toughest gun control laws, such as Washington D.C. and Detroit have some of the highest crime rates. Meanwhile, in Australia, where recent draconian bans on semi-automatic and pump-action firearms resulted in confiscation of tens of thousands of guns, crime rates in the last 12 months have skyrocketed. Homicides are up by 3.2%, assaults are up by 8.6%, and armed robberies are up by a full 44%.

In Switzerland, gun ownership and use is not a matter of free choice . It is a community duty and is mandatory. In a nation of 6 million people, the Swiss have a standing army of only 1,500 men. However, they can mobilize a standing army, combat ready, of over 650,000 troops within 24 hours. The Swiss government makes it easy for any adult, whether or not in the military, to learn how to use military weapons. When the government adopts a new rifle , it sells the old ones to the public. The army will even sell to its citizens a variety of machine guns, as well as anti-tank weapons, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, and cannons. The Swiss even subsidize ammunition purchases for its citizens. Preserving freedom and democracy is not just a citizens right - it is a duty. Thus, in a nation of just six million people, there are at least 2 million guns, including 600,000 fully automatic assault rifles (more than in the entire United States) and half a million pistols.

Despite all the guns, murder is only 15% of the American rate, and well below the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand , and Jamaican rates, even though Switzerland has more guns per capital than all of them.

A society with a great deal of guns is not necessarily a society with a great deal of gun problems. More important than the number of guns is their cultural context. Gun ownership in Switzerland is a mandatory community duty, not a matter of individual free choice. Defense of the nation is the responsibility of every male citizen. Genocide has never occurred in any nation whose citizens were armed. Cultural conditions, not gun laws, have proven to be the most important factors in a nations crime rate. The framers of the Second Amendment envisioned a policy in which gun ownership and use - like voting, jury duty, and paying taxes - was one of the basic components of responsible citizenship. The encouragement and instruction of mature, responsible gun use is by far the best policy for our country.

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