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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
It’s Time to Take a Second Look at Murder

If there is any fundamental precept of Western Civilization, it’s the injunction from the Ten Commandments that tells us, “Thou shalt not murder.”

But perhaps we in the United States today, suffering from one of the worst crime waves in our history — a crime wave that causes us to hide in our homes behind elaborate security systems — need to ask ourselves whether we are making a mistake in basing the laws of a secular society on the clearly sectarian religious precept that murder is wrong. Shouldn’t we, rather, take a more empirical approach to murder and first assess whether the actual practice of murder produces greater harm to society or a net social benefit?

There is plenty of good reason to believe that murder benefits society more than it harms it.

The Detective Division of the Chicago Police Department has analyzed all 940 murders that took place in Chicago in 1992, and issued a report titled Murder Analysis. In it we discover not only that 72.39% of the 1992 Chicago murderers had a prior criminal history, but 65.53% – virtually two-thirds – of the 1992 murder victims in Chicago had a prior criminal history as well.

That means that for every time an innocent person in Chicago was murdered, two criminals lost their lives. Six hundred and sixteen criminals were killed in Chicago alone in one year.

It is, of course, unfortunate that innocent people are dying from murder, but clearly murder is eliminating criminals from society twice as often as it is eliminating good people. Shouldn’t this make us begin to question whether we are making a mistake by placing the selfish interests of a few individuals to hang onto their lives for a few extra years above the clear social benefits of removing criminals whose destructive acts are destroying the fabric of our society?

Despite its sinister reputation, it appears that far more often than not, murder is a natural market reaction to the failure of our criminal justice system to punish criminals. Between 1968 and 1992, there were only 143 executions in the United States. During that same period, the United States had about 531,000 murders. If we apply the Chicago study’s percentage of 65.53% murder victims having a criminal history, we come up with a figure of about 350,000 criminals killed during that 25-year period. This is over 2400 times as many criminals killed in the private sector as all the criminals executed in all the states.

With trials, appeals, and lengthy death-row waits before a criminal can be executed in the United States — almost always at taxpayers’ expense — executing a single criminal costs the taxpayers well over a million dollars on average. Further, our antiquated laws only allow us to execute murderers, and not even all of them — there has to be “special circumstances.”

Yet, the private sector executed over 350,000 criminals at a fraction of the cost that the government’s criminal justice system did in one twenty-five year period. If the justice system had executed these criminals, it would have added 350 billion dollars to the federal debt.

But the taxpayers’ savings in bypassing official executions are only the beginning. The average criminal can be expected to commit about half-a-million dollars-a-year in economic crime, and hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in property destruction and physical harm to victims. Considering the revolving-door nature of our criminal justice system, one can estimate that over a twenty-five-year span, a criminal will spend about half his time in prison — at taxpayers’ expense, of course — and the other half on the street, committing robberies, assaults, burglaries, car thefts, carjackings, and rapes.

A simple automobile burglary for a car stereo can cost an insurance company almost a thousand dollars to repair broken windows and the dashboard console, and to replace the stolen equipment.

A simple assault can cost tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, lost wages, and psychological counseling.

Shoplifting causes stores to hire security personnel to watch us instead of sales clerks to help us.

The thousands of dollars we spend each year in insurance premiums and higher prices reflect the costs of living in a criminal-infested society.

How can we, as a society, even begin to calculate the immense social benefit that permanently removing even one criminal from society has, much less the 15,000 or so criminals that private-sector killing is eliminating each year? If a single criminal is responsible for several million dollars in losses over a career, isn’t murdering them at the rate of 15,000 or so a year producing a benefit to society several times that of the entire yearly federal deficit?


In 1729, Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and best-known today for his Gulliver’s Travels, wrote a satire called A Modest Proposal, in which he suggested that the children of the poor could benefit Ireland by being eaten.

Mark Twain said in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies — lies, damned lies and statistics.”

And in 1983, my satirical novel The Rainbow Cadenza was published, in which I portrayed a future that had “eliminated” rape by drafting women into a three-year hitch of public sexual service, and legalized hunting of draft-evaders for free sex.

The statistics quoted above are true. It is true that the Chicago Police Department’s Murder Analysis determined that twice as many persons with a criminal history were murdered in Chicago in 1992 than those without criminal histories.

It would have been just as easy for me to write an essay using real statistics, proving that since most crime in America is committed by young African-American males, therefore abolishing slavery was a bad idea, or that we could reduce our homicide rate to that of England’s by the simple expedient of shipping blacks back to Africa.

We are living in a society which has come down with a bad case of a disease we can dub “statisticitis”: the uncritical use of statistical sound bytes to influence public policy.

So-called experts at the federal Environmental Protection Agency have used statistics to claim that second-hand smoke is killing half a million of us each year.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once claimed in the Journal of the American Medical Association that guns are killing a million American children each year.

In fact, the national death rate from all causes is two million or so per year, with heart disease and cancers alone accounting for about two-thirds of the deaths.

Now a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine is claiming that you are three times more likely to have one of your loved ones murder you with a handgun you keep for protection than that the handgun will scare off, or actually defend you from, a burglar. But the doctor who made that claim didn’t even look at the question of how many times a year a firearm is used defensively without killing or wounding anyone.

We can’t all be experts in all the technical fields of knowledge necessary to make political judgments nowadays. There are just too many of them. But is it too much to ask, when someone wants to engineer public policy on the basis of what’s statistically “good” for society, whether it wrongs actual individuals who have to live in that society?

There is never shortage of good arguments for instituting a public policy that would benefit the greater good at the expense of some selfish few. These are the arguments we hear nowadays in favor of limiting your choice of legal medical treatment to those allowed by government-controlled “health alliances,” or limiting the portrayal of violence on television to what may be suitable only for children, or restricting firearms only to people who wear uniforms.

But without a moral sense of the dignity and rights of the private individual placing overriding limits on what governmental power may do to benefit society, what is to stop every ambitious social experimenter from enslaving each of us in reality, to “all of us,” in their wildest fantasies?


Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is Remarks to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners

Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is
Copyright © 1994, 1999 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

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