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Jewish World Review May 12, 2000 / 7 Iyar, 5760

Tony Snow

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Million Mother Myopia -- IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, the Million Mother March is all the rage. Women who normally wrinkle their noses at politics will attend in force; some will bring their daughters. Maybe even a husband or two will tag along, but I doubt it: This is pretty much a chick event. It features two forms of recreation women dearly love -- bonding rituals and forums for discussing the inbred idiocy of men.

The gun-control event rests on three assumptions: 1) Gun owners have an almost instinctive craving to fire at fellow human beings; 2) Laws will discourage this madness; and 3) A long march, embellished by chanting, singing and star turns will persuade male-dominated legislatures to change long-held views about firearms.

The gala incorporates the venerable American belief that statutes can improve the world. This faith has the virtue of encouraging people to think about solving big problems, but it also fosters myopia, so would-be problem-solvers fail to notice when things get better.

Gun control falls into this category. Gun violence rose dramatically during the '60s, '70s and '80s, inspiring many politicians and criminologists to predict a new age of vigilantism. But that trend began turning around nine years ago.

The question is why. As Yale economist John Lott points out in the new edition of his controversial book, "More Guns, Less Crime," our nation always has fostered a gun culture. Today, roughly 80 million Americans own a total of nearly 250 million firearms. If these folks were as violent as gun-control advocates allege, we'd all be very dead. Instead, murder rates are on the decline -- and rising gun ownership may have a lot to do with the trend.

Before explaining how, let's look at the tragedies that worry the marching moms: accidental shootings and mass murders. Drawing on the most recent available statistics, Lott notes that 1,134 Americans died in accidental shootings during 1996. Only 42 of these victims were under the age of 10. That same year, 1,915 kids that age died in motor-vehicle accidents; 489 died after getting hit by cars or trucks; 805 drowned; and 738 were killed by fire or burns.

Accidental shootings hit the lowest level ever recorded. In recent years, Lott writes, "only about 30 people are accidentally killed by private citizens who mistakenly believe the victim to be an intruder. By comparison, police accidentally kill as many as 330 individuals annually."

The same applies to mass killings. Despite the shooting spree at Columbine High, school violence has fallen precipitously since the mid-1980s, and this year could be the safest in decades.

It may surprise you to learn that this outbreak of peace has coincided with a veritable national gun-buying spree. The percentage of voters who own guns stands at nearly 40 percent, compared to 27.6 percent in 1988. Furthermore, the more you make, the more likely it is that you have purchased a firearm lately. The new guns aren't going to survivalists and drug thugs, but to law-abiding citizens with jobs and families.

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Proponents of gun control argue that new laws will build on this progress by preventing bad guys from procuring weapons. This sounds reasonable, until you consider that felons generally don't stride into a gun shop or show and obtain their arms by legal means.

Thugs are rational. They pick on easy prey and avoid trouble. For example, the man who allegedly attacked the Jewish community center in Los Angeles did so only after concluding that security was too tight at more prominent Jewish sites.

Lott argues that creeps back off in states that let citizens acquire permits to carry concealed weapons. Rates of murder, assault and burglary have fallen dramatically -- and women have been the primary beneficiaries of this trend.

Conversely, "safe storage" laws -- including trigger locks -- give felons a sense of greater criminal liberty. Lott estimates that the laws are "significantly related to almost 9 percent more rapes and robberies, and 5.6 percent more burglaries. ... (The) presence of the law in just ... 15 states was associated with 3,600 more rapes, 22,500 more robberies and 64,000 more burglaries."

As many as 4 million Americans (and as few as 150,000, depending on the study) each year say they used a gun to fend off an attacker. So the question is how best to discourage bad people from shooting good ones. Trigger locks, waiting periods and registration laws aren't the ticket.

They throw road blocks before lawful citizens and give gun-toting jerks the green light. If marching moms are more interested in making a difference than making noise, they ought to reconsider. A new gun-control law may give them a warm, toasty feeling during a presidential signing ceremony -- but it could imperil them and their families for years.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate