Firearms Discussion (Part IV): 'Reason or Emotion, Mr. President?'
As I wrote this article, my most recent among several on firearms policy, I anticipated the president addressing the nation on the matter at any moment. What I say here preceded his address, so the essay is neither a commendation nor a condemnation of his remarks.
My plea has little to do with the substance of the discussion, and everything to do with its method. Will we address this policy issue via reason and pertinent data, or will we do so by manipulative emotional appeals? Most of us concede that firearms policy is an emotional matter to people on both sides; but our leaders should assist us in stepping away from those emotions a little, to consider thoughtful reasoning.
Here are just a few areas I believe are pertinent to a civil, reasonable discussion of firearms policy – areas where, I hope, Mr. Biden will provide us with reliable data:
First, what other tools are used to commit assaults or homicides in the United States, and in what numbers, compared to firearms? Suppose that, hypothetically, firearms were used 40 times annually to commit violent crime, frying pans were used 400 times, baseball bats 200 times, kitchen knives 100 times, etc. Under such circumstances, we might recognize that firearms play a comparatively small (though media-hyped) role in violent crime. If, on the other hand, firearms were used five times more in violent crimes than all other weapons put together, that would frame the discussion quite differently.
Second, how many crimes are committed, and how many are prevented, with firearms? Again, depending on the data and the ratio, this information would be pertinent. Suppose firearms are used 100 times more to commit crime than to prevent it; or then suppose the opposite were true, that firearms are used 100 times more often to prevent than commit crime.
Third, when firearms are employed in a violent manner, what was their origin? How many were legally purchased from a gun store? How many were stolen? How many were acquired at gun shows? And again, what are the ratios between these categories? We will never prevent all theft. My few firearms are in a locked locker mounted into a wall of my home. It would not be easy to steal my firearms, but it would be possible. Any plumber or electrician could break in when we were away, use a reciprocating saw to cut around the locker, and take an entire chunk of my wall (with locker attached) out of the house.
Fourth, compared to other forms of death (besides natural causes), how significant is the matter of violent deaths anyway? I understand that the annual figure (excluding suicide) is around 3,000 annually. Automobile accidents account for 43,000. What other causes of non-natural death are there, and how do they compare to firearms-related deaths?
Fifth, in countries that have restricted firearms ownership more severely than the United States, which crimes decreased and which increased (in Britain, homicides decreased and burglaries while the owners were home increased), and by what amount?
Answers to these, and perhaps several other, questions would be very helpful in discerning what might constitute reasonable public policy. The answers may or may not be currently available, but does not Mr. Biden, as presiding officer in the Senate, have access to Dr. James Billington's staff at the Library of Congress? Could he not send such questions to Dr. Billington and request that his staff undertake the pertinent studies where necessary?
The president (or Mr. Biden), surrounded by a group of school children at a signing ceremony, is not helpful. Emotional appeals that circumvent reasoning or pertinent data will merely continue to polarize our nation, creating resentment among those who feel manipulated.
According to the Headstrong Foundation, 3,509 children under the age of 14 will be diagnosed with (life-threatening) leukemia this year – whereas, in most calendar years, few (if any) children are threatened with mass firearm violence. The Sandy Hook incident was a rarity. Statistically, even in the Sandy Hook year, a child's life is 175 times more likely to be threatened by leukemia than by a firearm. Is the president preparing executive orders to address this threat? Has Mr. Biden formed a committee to address this matter with as much gravitas and emotional appeal?
Our first daughter died of leukemia in 1986, so I understand something of the parental grief the parents in Sandy Hook are experiencing; burying a child is unpleasant, regardless of what was the killer. I resist attaching a digital photograph of our daughter to this essay; I neither wish to dishonor her memory nor the process of civil debate by making this an emotional matter. But I let the figures speak for themselves: 3,500 children will get leukemia this year, and many will die from it.
I am open to considering firearms recommendations from Mr. Biden or the president, provided that those recommendations are grounded in something other than emotion. If they present no pertinent data, or if they employ data selectively, I will remain unmoved in my belief that the Second Amendment serves us well. As a citizen, I will listen to pertinent data and reasoning. As a yet-grieving parent, I already have plenty of emotion, thank you.
T. David Gordon, Ph.D., is a professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College and a contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values.