The Right Opinion

How Guns Are Like Nukes

By Mona Charen · Feb. 5, 2013

I stand out among my conservative friends in disliking guns. I favor reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment, such as bans on fully automatic weapons, background checks for purchases and forbidding the sale of guns to those with histories of mental illness or criminality.

Yet I cannot agree with liberals that more gun control will lead to fewer gun crimes.

President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, actually illuminated one of the weaknesses of the gun control case. Hagel had been closely associated with Global Zero (though he’s since repudiated it), a movement dedicated to “the elimination of all nuclear weapons.” Hagel isn’t alone in endorsing this cause. President Obama supports the concept, as well.

Liberals like Hagel and Obama think nuclear weapons are a problem in themselves. Call it the instrumental view. It’s the weapon, rather than the person wielding it, that presents the danger. But American possession of nuclear weapons didn’t threaten world peace. On the contrary, our nuclear arsenal arguably kept the peace for the whole second half of the 20th century. On the other hand, a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands would be a profound threat to the world.

By the same instrumental logic, many ask how we can tacitly tolerate Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons while declaring that Iran must not be permitted to obtain them. The answer is the same. No matter how awful the weapon, the relevant question is about the weapon’s owner. Israel is a peace-seeking democracy whose nuclear weapons are clearly intended purely for defense. Iran is ruled by a terrorist gang that managed to gain control of a country.

To propose, as Hagel did, that the existing nuclear powers completely divest themselves of nuclear weapons wouldn’t make the world safer. It would make it profoundly less safe because the U.S. would be powerless to prevent smaller powers that acquired nuclear weapons after we had destroyed our own from bullying the world – or worse.

Wouldn’t it be a better world if nuclear bombs had never been invented? That’s hard to say. History isn’t over. The U.S. military projected casualties from an invasion of the Japanese mainland between 500,000 and 1 million American dead and between 5 and 10 million Japanese dead. Dropping two atomic bombs, as terrible as that was, cost about 200,000 lives.

Similar arguments animate the gun control debate. The ready availability of guns, we’re told, is responsible for America’s extremely high rates of gun crime and for the horrific mass shootings we’ve experienced in recent years. Possibly, but there are other nations with high rates of gun ownership, such as Switzerland and Israel, that have low rates of gun crime. In our own recent history, we know that many high schools hosted rifle teams and many had ranges in their buildings. Yet school shootings were exceedingly rare and mass shootings unheard of.

We are told that studies have shown that gun ownership does not make home owners safer, but that, on the contrary, having a gun in the home makes it much more likely that the homeowner will be shot by a family member. This claim rests chiefly on a study by Arthur Kellerman that compared 420 homicide victims with others living in the same neighborhood. As Prof. Gary Kleck observed, the subjects of the study lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and Kellerman did not control for membership in gangs or participation in the drug trade. Additionally, only 4.7 percent of the homicide victims were killed by spouses, lovers, other relatives or roommates using the gun that was kept at home. The overwhelming majority of the deaths were the result of guns brought into the home from elsewhere.

It’s doubtless true that more guns in homes are correlated with more gun accidents, gun suicides and gun homicides. It’s hard to find gun deaths in homes without guns. But there are no swimming pool deaths in homes without pools either. There is also no doubt that Americans defend themselves and others with guns quite frequently. Data are difficult to come by for complex reasons including reporting errors, varying state laws and even lying by gun owners. But when the CATO Institute studied news reports of defensive gun uses over an eight-year period ending in 2011, they found more than 5,000 documented instances of gun owners preventing mayhem (murder, rape, robbery and assault) with guns. Interestingly, they found only 11 cases in which the criminal was able to disarm the gun owner, but 227 cases in which the criminal was disarmed.

We can no more make guns disappear than we can uninvent nuclear weapons. The key in both cases is whose finger is on the trigger.



Torp44 in Ione, Wa. said:

"I favor reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment."
This statement fouls your otherwise well-written column, Mona. ANY "restriction" on the Second Ammendment is unconstitutional, PERIOD! Think about it a bit, Mona. Who would get to decide what those "restrictions" are going to be? With the current President & Congress we have, would you really want to see them impose ANY restrictions on any of our Constitutional rights? I certainly wouldn't!
Perhaps for the first time since our Republic was formed we are facing the reality of a President and his Administration whose aim is the literal "Fundamental Transformation of America", which Obama promised 5 days prior to his first election. The ONLY way I EVER want to see our Constitution RESTRICTED, altered or ammended is through Constitutionally designated process. That means a Constitutional Convention. Otherwise, our Constitution & its sacred stipulations regarding our rights must not be allowed any infringement! PERIOD!
It never ceases to amaze me how many otherwise intelligent people, including supposedly highly educated journalists, seem to have such vague grasps on the meaning or value of our Nation's founding documents! Then again, with what has been passing for "education" within the public school system for the last 60 years, I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised.
The recent furor over "Gun Control" is, in my opinion, one of many smokescreens - (along with "gay rights", "fair share" propaganda, & other issues which serve to distract the American Public from the very real prospects of our impending total financial collapse, & the worldwide threat of Islamic Jihad now becoming a threat here at home.
"Gun Control" is merely a "red herring" now being used as the latest distraction.
You seem bright, Mona, but I think you need to take a step back & take a good hard look at what is really going on here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:01 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

Jim, I agree with you, Mona blew it. How about reasonable restrictions on the First Amendment or the rest of the Bill of Rights? Background checks are the first steps to confiscation. It is called the Bill of Rights and not the Bill of Permissions. Remember Free Men own Guns, Subjects do not. If it were not for guns we would have a queen instead of a king (oops President. I seem to recall some events that occurred on April 19, 1775.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Mona, "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws,like O'zilla, will have guns!"

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 6:07 AM

Bob in Hattiesburg, MS said:

"[B]ans on fully automatic weapons, background checks for purchases and forbidding the sale of guns to those with histories of mental illness or criminality"

We already have those, Mona.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Brian in Newport News said:

"No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion." -- James Burgh (1714-1775) was an English Whig politician Source: "Political Disquisitions: Or, an Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses" (London, 1774-1775)

I don't want to be a slave.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:08 AM

wherewolf in WV said:

Why is there the focus on gun violence? Why not on violence in general? The answer is in the John Lott Study covered in "More Guns - Less Crime". The presence of firearms makes society safer from general violence and crime but - since you have more "hammers" there are going to be more incidents with "hammers". The "Gun Violence" focused activities would condemn us to increases in general violence (robbery, home invasion, rape, robbery, blunt force murder) by taking away the deterrent effect of the offender not knowing who is armed and who is not. The "gun violence" people would remove the inhibition on the choice by the criminal on who to strike by equalizing everyone as a victim. Pick anyone - it is a minimum risk under those circumstances for the felon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM

BJ in St. Cloud, MN said:

Violent crime is down. Fully automatic weapons are only available thru special licensing after heavy background checks. They are not available to the general gun buying public and they cost generally from 7000 to 15,000.
The areas with the strictest gun laws have the highest murder rates. We are armed against our govt, not for hunting or target shooting so why would we let the people we may have to fight with tell us which guns we can have? Several million times each year gun owners save their lives and property with a firearm. I do care about the senseless killings but most gun violence is gang and drug related. If someone is so nuts we restrict their ability to defend themselves then what are they doing on the street?Stop me when I get to something that's open to argument. I'm sorry but our freedom is worth more than even the victims of the senseless killings.
If guns don't help deter crime why do nutjobs not go to cop shops or gun stores and start shooting. And why are police armed. Restricting guns is a liberal power grab because if they can take away our means to resist our will to resist will follow.
The liberal socialist scum in DC know the facts but their agenda has always been to disarm us. SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED means what it says. With all three branches of govt now despotic we need our guns more than ever. The fact that they're trying to take the guns just verifies why the 2nd Amend. was placed right after the first.
God help us if the marxist socialist scum get what they want.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:50 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

The first step to confiscation is registration according to Lenin. Shall not be infringed...I don't care what Scalia says!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 2:09 PM

MajorStu in Peru, IN said:

There is a way to accomplish "reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment". I refer you to the United States Constitution, Article. V. Changing "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." requires a Constitutional Amendment, not an Executive Order. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 2:19 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio said:

Mona, I usually read every word you write and usually agree with most. But I stopped after the first paragraph.
1) "ban on fully automatic weapons" -- fully automatic weapons have been banned since 1932 (Thomson sub-machine gun). It is, and has been illegal to sell or own one since that time. Only criminals and military have fully automatic weapons now. Guess who will not give theirs up if you add more laws you do not need because you already have a law?
2) "background checks" -- already have them. To make them even more intrusive would mean that law-abiding citizens would have even more intrusion into their private lives to purchase a weapon for the defense of their family. Background checks do not affect criminals. They do not buy their guns legally.
3) mentally ill -- The mentally ill should not be in any position to buy a weapon. The proper dealing with mentally ill should be completely separate from gun issues. If they are a danger to themselves or others they should have the kind of care that protects them from themselves and others. No way should it only become an issue if they try to buy a gun. They should not have opportunity to buy a gun. Separate issue.

Are we good? No animosity here. I still think you are one of the best. I just wanted to clear up a few points.

Wait ! Before I posted I read the rest. Great commentary, Mona. Darn that first paragraph.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 2:20 PM