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Gun control - What went wrong?

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted April 30, 2001

During the 1990's, the gun control movement seemed unstoppable. Numerous gun laws were passed at all levels of government. With the aid of powerful media allies, gun ownership was tagged as an antisocial act and supporters of gun rights were successfully portrayed as tools of an evil gun lobby. The issue was considered so powerful that a major party included a call for much stricter gun control as an important part of its platform.

Since the election of 2000, analysts have been pondering the anti-gun lobby's sudden reversal of fortune. Politicians have deserted the cause like rats leaving a sinking ship. The Million Mom March laid off most of its paid staff and was thrown out of its free office space for alleged improprieties. Their hated opponent, the National Rifle Association, has seen membership surge to an all-time high of 4.3 million.

Anti-gun operatives are questioning their strategy and trying to maintain morale among the troops. Cracks are widening between the various organizations who blame each other for tactical errors.

What went wrong? Simply put, gun control was over-hyped. Politicians and other opportunists were seduced by an emotional issue that appeared to have no downside. Jumping on a bandwagon that claimed to protect moms and kids seemed a quick and easy route to better approval ratings. With so much excitement in the air, it was easy to ignore the logical flaws in the emotion-based arguments.

Underlying the entire movement were two unquestioned assumptions. First, that more gun laws were a surefire way to reduce crime and other forms of firearms abuse. The second was the belief that guns were used far more often for evil than for good. Since these were accepted as fact, the faithful were not concerned by the lack of solid proof.

Some followers of the faith realized that they were on shaky ground. Fake studies were funded to show an overwhelming negative effect from civilian gun ownership. Clever, but misleading sound bites were constantly created to reinforce the impression of a terrible and growing epidemic of gun violence. By the time one statement was discredited, another was ready to take its place.

Statistics were twisted to make it appear that most victims of gun violence were innocent middle class children, rather than young adult males involved with gangs and drugs. Suicides, accidents, homicides and justifiable shootings by police officers were lumped together to make the numbers more impressive. As many observers have noted, when the facts did not support their beliefs, they simply lied.

While the media trumpeted gun control victories and parroted the party line, opponents and neutral scholars were researching the facts. Since so many countries, states and cities have enacted strict gun control laws, it is now relatively easy to find out how effectively they have reduced crime and suicide. The utter failure of new gun laws to create any positive effect whatsoever was devastating to the anti-gun arguments.

Even more damning is the data showing that crime often worsens when gun control laws are tightened. Washington, D. C., California, England, and Australia, are just a few of the areas where crime increased embarrassingly after new laws were passed.

They also proved the truth of the old saying that registration leads to confiscation. When American gun owners saw video footage showing piles of confiscated guns being destroyed in Australia, they were unlikely to believe claims by the gun control lobby that their goals were strictly limited.

Scholarly studies by Professor John Lott showed another interesting effect. In states that enacted laws enabling law abiding citizens to obtain concealed weapon permits, crime dropped. This strikes at the very heart of the gun control movement which claims that the proliferation of guns is responsible for crime. Unable to rally enough academic horsepower to refute Lott's results, gun control groups resorted to ugly personal attacks.

While gun control arguments were being dismantled by academics, grassroots action by gun owners exploded. Fearing extinction beneath the steamroller of anti-gun hysteria, they bombarded elected officials with messages, formed many new gun rights organizations and began participating in street demonstrations for the first time. The appearance of these normal, sensible people counteracted the attempt to portray gun owners as anti-social rednecks.

Changes in media coverage also contributed to the climate shift. In the year prior to the election, studies by media watchdog groups showed an overwhelming bias, on the order of ten to one, in the slant of network news stories about the gun control debate. The national media began to look like bullies ganging up on gun owners.

The Fox News Network was first to realize that many viewers were fed up with the blatant bias and started airing stories that showed both sides of the issue. Although the more liberal newspapers and networks maintained their anti-gun bias, moderate and conservative media outlets suddenly felt free to address the other side of the debate. The media monopoly enjoyed by the gun control lobby was broken.

Just before the election, when the NRA staged rallies that were attended by thousands of angry gun owners, the politicians could see that the winds had changed. Although the election produced no overwhelming victory for either side, the opportunists realized that gun control was no longer a winning issue. Now only the true believers remain.

Does this mean the end of the gun control movement? Certainly not, because it never depended on mass participation. Major funding has always come from a relatively small number of rich donors. As long as the limousine liberals have money to spend, the movement will live on.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws.

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