On September 11th, 2001, approximately 3,000 Americans lost their lives in the worst ever terrorist attack on our home soil. For years afterwards, terrorism dominated the news, and the fear of terrorist violence became widespread.
On one level, this was an understandable, predictable reaction to an unprecedented threat — a threat that was covered obsessively by the mainstream media.
On another level, however, the public's trauma and its anxiety were deeply irrational. Few Americans, after all, knew anyone who had died on 9/11. More importantly, the risk that both domestic and international terrorism posed to the safety of most Americans was minuscule, in statistical terms. Americans faced countless other threats more real and potentially fatal, and yet, for a while, they chose to focus on Al Qaeda instead.
Despite what some people may like to believe, human beings tend to assess threats in a deeply irrational way. Their perception of danger is massively influenced by culture, including “news” and propaganda, and only secondarily by a balanced, mathematical or scientific assessment of various risk factors.
The modern movement for gun control is an excellent case in point. Gun control advocates lobby for bans on various types of firearms (or all firearms); they insist that licensing, background checks, mental health screening, waiting periods, fees, and other barriers be placed in the way of those desiring to purchase firearms; and they want gun manufacturers to be held liable for the misuse of their products, sometimes with the goal of driving such companies out of business.
To justify these extreme and extra-constitutional measures, gun control advocates argue that gun violence is rampant in the United States. They trumpet the most sensational incidents of gun-related violence, especially mass shootings, to prove that draconian gun control measures are both politically prudent and morally imperative.
The problem with such arguments is that gun control advocates' desire to minimize danger, criminal violence, and death is not consistent. Liberal opponents of gun rights routinely tolerate danger, violence, and death in many forms, as do most people. Only when such threats are posed by guns — a popular scapegoat — do these activists suggest that a radical response is required. Otherwise, they are happy to allow far more deadly threats to fester and grow.
Many examples suggest themselves.
Roughly 30,000 Americans die every year because of injuries inflicted by guns (most of them suicides). That is 10,000 fewer than die in car accidents. Yes, to drive a car one is required to have a license and wear a seat belt, but otherwise the motor vehicle's veritable reign of terror goes unchecked.
Gun control advocates seem content to give cars the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that worldwide they kill more than 1 million people per year. No one is proposing a ban on cars, needless to say, nor even on a category of vehicles (say, small cars, because their occupants are more vulnerable, or large cars and trucks, because their mass poses an increased risk to other motorists). The relative comfort we feel driving in our cars, therefore, compared to the widespread and hysterical aversion to guns, makes no rational sense, when the ordinary use of motor vehicles is three times more likely to kill us than the criminal use of guns!
Other threats pose an even greater risk. Smoking, obesity, medical errors, and alcoholism all kill considerably more Americans than either guns or cars. All Americans are, however, free to smoke, eat unhealthy foods, patronize quack doctors, and drink beer, wine, and spirits to their hearts' content. At least since Prohibition, activists have not given serious thought to the abolition of any of these grave dangers to public health — although measures have been taken to mitigate them.
Insofar as obesity is a major risk factor for a variety of deadly diseases, statistically speaking a strong case can be made that sugary foods and drinks are far more dangerous to Americans than guns, but no meaningful impediment to their purchase has yet been introduced. And since physical inactivity is also blamed for obesity, one could equally well argue that comfortable seating is more deadly than firearms — that a gun-owner's armchair is more likely to kill him than his Smith & Wesson — and yet activists are not calling for licensing or waiting periods for the purchase of plush chairs and sofas. This would seem to be a major oversight!
Meanwhile, every year 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs, and, while fatalities are rare, serious injuries and hospitalization are common — and yet gun control proponents would never dream of banning Fido, Spike, or Mr. Yappers...
If gun control advocates were sincere about “saving lives,” surely they would devote as much, or more, time and effort to addressing these well-known threats as they do to persecuting gun owners. That they do not puts paid to the claim that protecting people's well-being is their primary aim. On the contrary, their aim is to diminish people's freedoms, by demonizing and then criminalizing a category of inanimate objects, i.e. guns, against which they bear an irrational grudge.
Moreover, even if one accepts that gun control advocates have correctly identified a product that poses some degree of risk, their proposals for reducing that risk are in conflict with the pattern of risk itself. For one thing, the last several decades have seen an expansion of gun rights as well as a huge increase in the number of guns owned, and yet violent crime involving guns has been cut in half. This fundamental reality undercuts that whole premise of “gun control.”
In addition, gun control proponents invariably prioritize the banning of “assault weapons” (an amorphous category of long guns), when the vast majority of gun-related fatalities are caused by handguns. The only plausible explanation is that “assault weapons” are unpopular, because of the propaganda war that has been waged against them, whereas pistols have an image that is somewhat less tarnished. To put it another way, “assault weapons” are mere targets of opportunity for activists. Their hasty abolition makes little rational sense.
Clearly, the data does not support gun control advocates' obsessive focus on guns as a threat to the safety and well-being of the American people. Other dangers of far greater lethality are of minimal interest to these “humanitarians.” Keep this in mind the next time an enemy of the Second Amendment claims to be battling to “save lives.”
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears weekly on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.