Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
Nominated as Freedom Book of the Month
for June 2010
by the Freedom Book Club
— Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
To L. Neil Smith
Who Made Me Ashamed to Be Unarmed
Authors get all the credit, but they usually have help. Considering the many hours in which I have been educated on the subjects of history, liberty, morality and ethics, justice, criminal justice and law enforcement, firearms, and criminology, I would be remiss if I did not pay acknowledgements to the personal instruction I received from the following individuals: Sean Barrett, Alan Brennert, Steve Clar, Culver City Police Chief Ted Cooke, Charles Curley, Robert Durio, Art Eisenson, Harlan Ellison, Dan Feely, Elizabeth and Justin Feffer, Manuel Fernandez, John Ferrero, Dennis Foley, David Friedman, James Gatlin, Alan Gottlieb, Helen Grieco, Stephen Halbrook, Sylvia Hauser, Robert and Virginia Heinlein, Steve Helsley, Randall Herrst, Karl Hess, Ray Hickman, John Hosford, Phill Jackson, Dan Gifford, Sal Grammatico, T.J. Johnston, Don B. Kates, Jr., Keith Kato, Bill Keys, Gary Kleck, Peter Lake, Wayne LaPierre, Robert LeFevre, Rick Lowe, Elodie McKee, Michael McNulty, John Milius, Armando Miranda, Andrew Molchan, Jerry Pournelle, Dennis Prager, Leroy Pyle, Pat O’Malley, Paxton Quigley, Ayn Rand, Robert Ray, Michael D. Robbins, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Fred Romero, Murray Rothbard, Jim Saharek, Randy Shields, Jay Simkin, Culver City Police Lt. Owen Smet, Thomas Glenn Terry, Lance Thomas, Linda Thompson, Cathy Tolley, Luis Tolley, Kent Turnipseed, Jim Waldorf, Aaron Zelman, and, of course, my parents and family.
Additionally, for their direct guidance and help on this book, I’d like to thank Léon Bing, John Douglas, Larry Freundlich, Kent Hastings, Dafydd ab Hugh, Keith Kirts, Neal Knox, Victor Koman, Samuel Edward Konkin III, Richard Kyle, Jared Lobdell, Tanya Metaksa, Kate O’Neal, Ave Pildas and the students of the Otis Design Group at Otis College of Art and Design, Dori Smith, and Albert Yokum.
And, finally, a very special thank you to Brad Linaweaver and Randy Herrst for assistance at the penultimate hour.
I know that some of the people I’m thanking disagree with my views as expressed in this book. Tough. They have my gratitude anyway — JNS
by Don B. Kates, Jr.
While still a student at Yale Law School, Don B. Kates, Jr., did civil rights work in the South, was a law clerk for William Kuntsler, and drafted civil-rights legislation for the House Judiciary Committee. From 1966 to 1975 he held various administrative positions with California Rural Legal Assistance and was deputy director and director of litigation for the San Mateo County Legal Aid Society, providing free legal representation for the poor. He specialized in major constitutional litigation and police misconduct litigation. In 1970 he was denominated the nation’s outstanding legal services lawyer by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. He has also been a member of the California Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission.
Professor Kates has acted as a police legal advisor to departments in California and Missouri and has been a consultant on firearms, firearms legislation, and civil rights legislation to police departments and state and federal legislative committees. His articles on firearms have appeared in police and firearms technical journals; and his articles on firearms laws and “gun control” in general have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Civil Liberties Review, the Criminal Law Bulletin, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and various law reviews and other publications. He is the author of Guns, Murder, and the Constitution, and books he has edited include Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out and Firearms and Violence.
Professor Kates has taught constitutional and criminal law at St. Louis University and as a criminologist is currently associated with the Pacific Research Institute. He maintains a largely constitutional law practice in San Francisco and has recently been litigating constitutional issues regarding California’s gun laws. — JNS
Most Americans, including most gun owners, support reasonable gun controls. As a criminologist, so do I – with the caveat that even the best controls can only have marginal effects because the real determinants of violence are cultural and socioeconomic. The reason gun control remains a controversy is that the gun “control” movement has no interest in control, and no interest in working with the millions of gun owners who support control. The gun-control movement is dominated, rather, by prohibitionists whose ideologically motivated program obstructs society’s ability actually to control guns.
Exemplifying that obstruction is Washington D.C.’s ban on handgun sales, passed at the urging of Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) and the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH). This ban just drove the traffic underground, destroying the limited real control-value gun laws can have. When gun sales are legal, they’re concentrated among gun dealers who can be required to register or conduct background checks on buyers, and refuse sales to prohibited persons such as felons and juveniles. Banning guns created a thriving business, with black marketeers obtaining scores of handguns in adjoining states and selling them on D.C.’s streets to anyone with the money to buy.
The situation will be even worse if HCI and NCBH attain their goal of a federal handgun ban. In addition to importing millions of handguns, the black marketeers will produce modern handguns in pot-metal copies. Though such a gun could only fire perhaps 300 shots before exploding, any competent machinist can fabricate one using tooling no more sophisticated than that found in millions of home workshops. Pot-metal guns would actually be less expensive than commercially manufactured guns are today – being produced without safeties, serial numbers, and brand names – by businesses free from costs such as taxes, record keeping, and likelihood of product liability suit. Similarly, “rotgut” sold for less during Prohibition than good liquor had before it.
The issue of licensing good citizens to carry concealed guns further illustrates the anti-gun movement’s indifference to, and retardation of, actual control. Under California law, the police are required to license adults who have good cause and good character. The City of Los Angeles has more population than Connecticut which, as of mid-1993, had 110,000 licenses statewide. Yet at the behest of HCI, NCBH, and their ally the virulently anti-gun Los Angeles Times, as of mid-1993 the City of Los Angeles hadn’t issued a handgun concealed-carry license in 18 years.
Predictably, however, that didn’t mean no one was carrying concealed guns. A May 17, 1992 Los Angeles Times poll found 250,000 people admittedly carrying handguns without a license. Think of that: 250,000 uncontrolled people carrying concealed guns around – their identities, training, and qualifications completely unknown to the police! Now, of course, criminals wouldn’t seek licenses even if they were freely available to good citizens. But the law-abiding would – whereby society would have notice of their identities and the power to condition licensure on training and testing. That is pragmatic gun control. The program of the LA Times, Handgun Control et al. is prohibitionist myopia.
But they don’t care that their program is non-pragmatic and ineffective. Their real goal is a law symbolically affirming their deeply held moral belief that people should depend on the police for defense and never be prepared to defend themselves. Nationally syndicated columnist Garry Wills, a distinguished cultural historian, calls those who own guns for family defense “anti-citizens,” “traitors, enemies of their own patriÆ,” arming “against their own neighbors.” Ramsey Clark calls defensive gun ownership “anarchy, not order under law – a jungle where each relies on himself for survival.” The Washington Post deems “The need that some homeowners and shopkeepers believe they have for weapons to defend themselves” to be among “the worst instincts of the human character.” Likewise, representatives of the Presbyterian Church regularly seek a handgun ban because their church’s “General Assembly has declared in the context of handgun control that it is opposed to ‘the killing of anyone, anywhere, for any reason.'”
The Presbyterians distinguish long guns, which they see as intended for sporting use only, from handguns which they seek to outlaw as primarily intended for self-defense. The National Council to Ban Handguns (of which the Presbyterian Church USA is a charter member) changed its name to Coalition Against Gun Violence to clarify that it seeks prohibition also of long guns that are especially adapted for self-defense rather than sport. That is the real basis of the campaign against so-called assault rifles.
The law NCBH and HCI got Washington D.C. to pass (and which they see as the basic minimum gun control) doesn’t just ban sale of handguns. To preclude the use of any firearm for self-defense, it prohibits householders from keeping even long guns assembled or loaded. NCBH was founded, and is still sponsored, by the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. Its rationale for gun “control” is explained by the editor of its publication Engage-Social Action, Rev. Allen Brockway. He is so deeply opposed to self-defense that he solemnly informs women that it is their Christian duty to submit to rape rather than do anything that might imperil a rapist’s life. Rhetorically posing the question “Is the Robber My Brother?” Rev. Brockway answers “yes” for, though the burglary victim or the “woman accosted in the park by a rapist is [not] likely to consider the violator to be a neighbor whose safety is of immediate concern … [c]riminals are members of the larger community no less than are others. As such they are our neighbors or, as Jesus put it, our brothers … ”
Theological considerations aside, the Methodist Board and the YWCA condemn the mere possession (not just the unlawful use) of defensive firearms as “vigilantism.” HCI and the other dominant forces in the gun “control” movement (quoted above) concur in condemning gun ownership for self-defense on purely secular moral grounds. As Illinois anti-gun activist and University of Chicago professor Robert Replogle puts it, “The only legitimate use of a handgun that I can understand is for target shooting.” HCI’s Sarah Brady, in an interview from the Tampa Tribune of October 21, 1993, agrees that “the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes.”
Concomitantly, on August 15, 1993 the New York Times quoted Sarah Brady as saying that HCI proposes federal gun licensing under which self-defense would not be accepted as a ground for gun ownership. Only sportsmen would be allowed to own guns. Of course the Los Angeles Times, in an editorial from October 22, 1993, agrees. So does NCBH, though it also seeks to have all handguns (even target .22s) banned and confiscated. And, again, both HCI and NCBH insist that all firearms be kept unloaded and disassembled to make it impossible to use them for self-defense.
If only to appeal to those who disagree with their anti-self-defense moral premises, HCI and NCBH do avow pseudocriminological arguments for such laws. Thus, when he was HCI Chairman, Pete Shields in his book Guns Don’t Die, People Do advised that women submit to rapists and never physically resist in any way: when attacked by criminals “the best defense against injury is to put up no defense – give them what they want or run.” In fact, however, it is only victims who run away or resist barehanded or with some weapon less than a gun who increase their danger of injury. Though the submissive are only half as likely to be injured by criminals as are victims who resist without a gun, criminological data show victims who submit are still twice as likely to be injured by criminals as are victims who resist with a gun – not to mention that the submissive are much more likely to be raped or robbed.
HCI and NCBH try never to acknowledge or mention these facts, which have been established by the leading American authority on guns and crime, Prof. Gary Kleck of Florida State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Kleck also finds that each year handguns are used by good citizens three to four times as often in self-defense as they are misused by criminals in committing crimes. Of course this research has also escaped the notice of the Washington Post, New York and LA Times, and the rest of our ignorant and highly biased media. Fortunately, it has not gone unnoticed by others. It is responsible for changing the minds of many criminologists who started out, as did Kleck, believing that gun ownership even by good citizens promotes crime. In 1993, the American Society of Criminology awarded Kleck’s book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America its coveted Hindelang Award for the most important research in criminology over the past several years.
HCI, NCBH, and gun prohibitionists in general ignore Kleck’s work because, at bottom, their position is not criminological, but rather non-pragmatically “moral” and ideological. Yet that position is morally bankrupt because it can only be urged upon the American people by active and consistent deceit. Consider what I call The Parable of the Fox, the Rabbit, and the Porcupine: While our society is ravaged by foxes, HCI, NCBH, and their allies urge us to disarm and cower in our holes like rabbits. In contrast, gun owners imitate the porcupine. But HCI, NCBH, and their allies obscure the truth by pointing to the slain rabbits and shrieking, “It’s the porcupines’ fault! The porcupines are eating the rabbits!”
Note: Readers wishing more detailed verification for the facts cited above can refer to Kates’ “Bigotry, Symbolism, and Ideology in the Battle Over Gun Control,” 1992 Public Interest Law Journal 31; also his “The Value of Civilian Arms Possession as Deterrent to Crime or Defense Against Crime,” 18 American Journal of Criminal Law 113 (1991); also his “Handgun Banning in Light of the Prohibition Experience” in Firearms and Violence 1984 (Kates is editor); my own interview with Gary Kleck, later in this book; and other sources referenced throughout or recommended at the end of this book – JNS
By J. Neil Schulman
“Buy a gun. Learn to use it safely and appropriately. Carry it with you at all times. Be prepared to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your neighborhoods,”
-J. Neil Schulman on ABC TV World News Tonight, May 2, 1992, during the Los Angeles Riots
Yes, I admit it: the title of this book is a bad pun.
Technically speaking, “stopping power” is a measurement of the ability of a firearm or a round used by a firearm to incapacitate an attacker.
But I also mean it as the ability of an armed citizenry to stop tyrannical power.
This book contains my writings on firearms-related topics, although it expands out from there into issues of criminology, political history, and theories of justice.
I’m not what you’d call a gun nut. When I started writing in defense of firearms, I didn’t even own a gun.
I shot my father’s .22 rifle in the back yard of our house in Natick, Massachusetts once or twice, got an NRA marksmanship certificate with an air rifle when I was 12 or so, and didn’t shoot again for another two decades.
I only bought my first firearm, a .380 Colt Government Model semi-automatic pistol, in late summer, 1991. Since that time I’ve bought two more semi-auto pistols, have taken California police reserve training, and have received a license to carry a concealed firearm in California and Massachusetts. I’ve also become a pretty decent marksman, though not up to competition standards.
The reason I started writing about guns is that I’m interested in justice – not to mention life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and I don’t believe any of these things are possible if the government and criminals are well-armed and the people aren’t.
In this book I’m going to try to explain two things. I hope I’m explaining them to people who have never owned, or even considered owning, a firearm.
The first thing I’m going to try to explain is why 70 million Americans – about half the adults in the United States of America – already own at least one firearm, and many Americans own a veritable arsenal of them.
The second thing I’m going to try to explain is why – despite a barrage of anti-gun propaganda by virtually the entire institutional establishment in this country – these 70 million American gun owners are morally, historically, legally, and politically justified in their choice to be armed.
That is about as far as the National Rifle Association would take you. I’m going to go farther. I’m going to give reasons why the other half of the adult population in the United States – the half who aren’t armed – are the reason this country suffers from the epidemic of violent crime that it does.
This is not a textbook. I’m not a professional historian, nor am I a constitutional lawyer or a criminologist. I’m a novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. In other words, I’m a self-appointed pundit.
That should make me at least as qualified to write about guns as other self-appointed pundits such as Sarah Brady of Handgun Control, Inc. Aside from ideology, the emotional difference between Sarah Brady’s and my view of guns is that Sarah Brady’s husband was badly hurt by a gun in an assassination attempt on President Reagan, and my father, a concert violinist, saved his life from muggers several times because he was carrying a gun.
I’m not going to present you with a systematic defense of gun ownership. I’m going to give you a bunch of things I wrote over the last few years. Some were published as newspaper opinion pieces and magazine articles, and others presented as editorial replies, letters, computer bulletin-board arguments, broadsides, speeches, polemics, and proposals. Everything you’re going to read in this book was written in the heat of battle, as I responded to wave after wave of anti-gun hysteria on television and radio, and in prestigious newspapers and journals that should know better.
If you don’t have any interest in what a self-appointed pundit has to say on this subject, and you’re looking for more systematic or academic presentations on the issues I cover in these articles, I include a recommended list for further reading in the back of the book. I’ll forgive you for flipping to the back of the book, writing down some of those other titles, and putting this book back on the shelf. Just don’t let the bookstore clerk catch you.
We live in an age of soundbytes. Maybe you’re not in the mood to read a whole book on this subject. Okay, the next time you get into an argument about guns, here’s all you need to know:
- Every 13 seconds an American gun owner uses her or his firearm in defense against a criminal. If you’re only counting handguns, it’s every 16 seconds.
- Women use handguns 416 times each day in defense against rapists, which is a dozen times more often than rapists use a gun in the course of a rape. Handguns are used 1145 times a day against robbers. Handguns are used 1510 times a day in defense against criminal assaults.
- A gun kept in the home for protection is 216 times as likely to be used in a defense against a criminal than it is to cause the death of an innocent victim in that household.
- The U.S. cities with the strictest gun-control laws also have higher homicide rates than U.S. cities with less gun control. Switzerland and Israel both have highly armed civilian populations, and have extremely low rates of gun-related homicides.
- Gandhi once said, “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of Arms as the blackest.”
- Hitler once said, “The most foolish mistake we could make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms.” (I like quoting this to people who’ve just seen Schindler’s List.)
And no list of soundbytes would be complete without a bumper sticker: “When guns are outlawed, only liberals won’t have guns.”
This, then, is the case for the civilian population to be better armed than the government.
–J. Neil Schulman, June, 1994
Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is Introduction: As American as Guns
Copyright © 1994, 1999 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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