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Guns Save Lives


It's all too predictable. A day after a gunman killed six people and wounded 18 others at Northern Illinois University, The New York Times ( criticized the U.S. Interior Department for preparing to rethink its ban on guns in national parks.

The editorial board wants "the 51 senators who like the thought of guns in the parks — and everywhere else, it seems — to realize that the innocence of Americans is better protected by carefully controlling guns than it is by arming everyone to the teeth."

As usual, the Times editors seem unaware of how silly their argument is. To them, the choice is between "carefully controlling guns" and "arming everyone to the teeth." But no one favors "arming everyone to the teeth" (whatever that means). Instead, gun advocates favor freedom, choice and self-responsibility. If someone wishes to be prepared to defend himself, he should be free to do so. No one has the right to deprive others of the means of effective self-defense, like a handgun.

As for the first option, "carefully controlling guns," how many shootings at schools or malls will it take before we understand that people who intend to kill are not deterred by gun laws? Last I checked, murder is against the law everywhere. No one intent on murder will be stopped by the prospect of committing a lesser crime like illegal possession of a firearm. The intellectuals and politicians who make pious declarations about controlling guns should explain how their gunless utopia is to be realized.

While they search for — excuse me — their magic bullet, innocent people are dying defenseless.

That's because laws that make it difficult or impossible to carry a concealed handgun do deter one group of people: law-abiding citizens who might have used a gun to stop crime. Gun laws are laws against self-defense.

Criminals have the initiative. They choose the time, place and manner of their crimes, and they tend to make choices that maximize their own, not their victims', success. So criminals don't attack people they know are armed, and anyone thinking of committing mass murder is likely to be attracted to a gun-free zone, such as schools and malls.

Government may promise to protect us from criminals, but it cannot deliver on that promise.

This was neatly summed up in book title a few years ago: "Dial 911 and Die." If you are the target of a crime, only one other person besides the criminal is sure to be on the scene: you. There is no good substitute for self-responsibility.

How, then, does it make sense to create mandatory gun-free zones, which in reality are free-crime zones?

The usual suspects keep calling for more gun control laws. But this idea that gun control is crime control is just a myth ( The National Academy of Sciences reviewed dozens of studies and could not find a single gun regulation that clearly led to reduced violent crime or murder. When Washington, D.C., passed its tough handgun ban years ago, gun violence rose.

The press ignores the fact that often guns save lives.

It's what happened in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law. Hearing shots,

two students went to their cars, got their guns and restrained the shooter until police arrested him.

Likewise, law professor Glen Reynolds writes, "Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school's vice principal took a .45 from his truck and ran to the scene. In (last) February's Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun" (

It's impossible to know exactly how often guns stop criminals. Would-be victims don't usually report crimes that don't happen. But people use guns in self-defense every day. The Cato Institute's Tom Palmer says just showing his gun to muggers once saved his life.

"It equalizes unequals," Palmer told "20/20" ( "If someone gets into your house, which would you rather have, a handgun or a telephone? You can call the police if you want, and they'll get there, and they'll take a picture of your dead body. But they can't get there in time to save your life. The first line of defense is you."

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity," which is now out in paperback. To find out more about John Stossel and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




16 Comments | Post Comment
I believe people at shooting ranges across the country are "armed to the teeth" and we don't hear of any of them killing people at will. It's just common sense.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Candy
Wed Feb 27, 2008 8:55 AM
According to Wicapedia, the firearm homicide rate in the US is about 6 times higher than that of Canada and 80 times higher than that of the United Kingdom. We do pay a price for our love of guns.
"More children may die in bathtub accidents than in shooting accidents, but you are not likely to read that in most newspapers..." Even if true, what an amazingly silly comparison. (Which might be why newspapers don't dwell on that stat...) Children's access to guns is generally well controlled by the adult owners of guns, yet we still get many pointless accidental deaths even with this gun control. Handling a gun several times a week, however, is not considered an important part of child hygiene. (I suppose it is considered a sacrament in some circles, but let's not make this about the NRA leadership.) Bathing several times a week, however, IS generally considered to be an important part of child hygiene. Greater exposure brings greater risk. Children are also much more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than drowning and accidental shooting combined. The rational response has been to require greater safety features in vehicles such as child seats, etc.
Mr. Sowell makes a modest argument for the presence of guns. However, there is nothing in his piece that argues against limits on the size of clips, removing AR-15s and the like from the marketplace, removing access to teflon coated bullets, and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Rational gun control need not preclude responsible gun ownership and the ability to protect one's self.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mark
Tue Apr 2, 2013 12:53 AM
In a home invasion by an urban gang, how many bullets would be enough? Only one per invader? Perhaps the safest city in America is Kennesaw Mountain, GA which - by ordinance - requires every homeowner to own a weapon. Nobody messes with anyone there.
Comment: #3
Posted by: jm
Tue Apr 2, 2013 4:01 AM
In a home invasion by an urban gang, how fast a fire rate would be enough? Doesn't the government's restrictions on your access to fully automatic guns limit your home defense options? In a home invasion by a rural gang, wouldn't it be handy to be able to take out their truck with an RPG as they came down the drive? One can always imagine a situation, or point to an atypical incident, where a particular weapon would be the best tool. I am not sure if such imaginings should be the prime determinant of public policy. (In the seat belt law debate, a similar argument might be to point to one of those cases where a person's life is saved by being thrown clear of a vehicle in a crash just before it went over a cliff as evidence that seat belt laws are a bad idea.)
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Tue Apr 2, 2013 7:46 AM
Mark I don't know why you would expect Mr. Sowell to address the entirely of the gun control issue in a short op-ed peice. He choose a small topic from an enormous issue and did it well. He got his point accross. He does not need to go off in tangents about AR's and clip size when the only point he was trying to make was that guns save lives and the media is biased. And he made that point.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Tue Apr 2, 2013 9:20 AM
Perhaps I am asking a bit much of Mr. Sowell. I would disagree that he succeeded in making his point on the media bias. However, his article was, in my humble opinion, a good example of media bias.
An interesting study on the NRA school safe proposals was published today in The American Journal of Criminal Justice, a peer-reviewed journal. I found it to be an interesting analysis. Link to news release:
The NRA has apparently come to the same conclusion about the part of their initial suggestions to have armed volunteers in schools.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Mark
Tue Apr 2, 2013 6:59 PM
And yet, no gun control legislation has any impact on gun violence. Since the nonsensical Clinton gun controls have expired, including limitations on magazine size, gun violence has decreased. More people are killed by numerous other methods, including allergic reactions to bug bites yet the fools want to attack guns. There is extreme media bias against guns and yet fools want to say Mr. Sowell is biased for pointing out the actual bias, laughable at best and dangerous at worse.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Ed Boyle
Wed Apr 3, 2013 7:50 AM
The previous "assault" weapons ban did not include any limits on clip size. That detail allowed manufacturers to go around the ban with functionally insignificant cosmetic changes. I do not wish to attack guns, just providing fools with easy access to guns. Universal background checks for all gun sales would be a good start. As Steve Chapman recently pointed out, the current system's loopholes put bad guys on the "honor system."
Comment: #8
Posted by: Mark
Wed Apr 3, 2013 9:18 AM

Below copied from WikiPedia;

"One year after signing the Brady Law, White House lobbying also played a role in the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, which included the assault weapons ban. The law banned certain semi-automatic firearms with two or more specific design features, and also prohibited the manufacture of ammunition magazines that held over ten rounds."

My opening statement above still stands, no gun control law has been proven to decrease gun violence. As for universal background checks, this affects individual buys/sellers. How does John Doe do a background check on someone? They have no access to the database. How about giving a firearm to someone? If we required the same things for car buying, background checks, mental stability, etc., as we do for gun purchases there would be an absolute calamity of protest and yet automobiles kill 100 times more people. Yes, there are people driving while using psychotropic drugs, complete nut jobs, too old to drive and other inhibiting physical and mental attributes. One could save more lives by addressing these issues with drivers, with half the effort and cost, than anything that could be done with gun control legislation. But lives aren't the real issue, the real issue is making gun control advocates feel better about an irrational fear of a tool about which most gun control advocates have no or little understanding. Many acknowledge that the laws they seek won't help but want to “do something”. False security isn't something it's denying a competent person a chance to stop the next Flagstaff, Arora or Newtown.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Ed Boyle
Wed Apr 3, 2013 9:54 AM
I stand corrected on the 10 round clips in the 1994 law. Thank you for correcting my misunderstanding of that fact. I believe that gun control laws are part of the answer to gun violence, but are not the magic bullet that will end the violence. There are clearly some successes. When is the last time you heard of fully automatic weapons being used in a crime in the US? An RPG? Compare the crime rates of Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA, two similar cities. It is likely that the lower crime rate in Vancouver is do, at least in part, to more restrictive guns laws and a different culture concerning guns that those laws engender. Chicago and DC, however, are not ringing examples of the effectiveness of gun control.
The current system of background checks is less than effective. Creating a system that would allow individuals access to the background check system for the transfer of a firearm is necessary if one is to reduce the access to firearms for prohibited persons. If they can simply use a straw buyer or arrange a private party purchase to avoid the check as they can now, it makes the background check an "honor" system.
You are correct to suggest that the current system for cars has much to offer the gun control debate: A test to see if you are competent to drive, an easily traceable registration system for every motor vehicle, an agency that a doctor can call if she believes that a patient is no longer competent to drive, a graduated licensing system for young drivers, a database of problems arising from the vehicles sold, detailed requirements for the safety features of new vehicles sold, etc. The careful fine tuning of these laws have contributed to a steadily dropping death rate for motor vehicle accidents. The model has much to offer the gun control debate.
Automobiles do not "kill 100 times more people." In fact, the rates are actually quite similar, but we put little effort into reducing gun violence and much effort into reducing traffic deaths. From a recent USA Today article:
"WASHINGTON — Deaths from traffic accidents have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, while firearm-related fatalities rose for decades before leveling off in the past decade, a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Meanwhile, the rate of firearms deaths has exceeded traffic fatalities in several states, including Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon, records show. The rate is equal in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In the United States in 2010, the rate of firearm deaths was 10 people per 100,000, while for traffic accidents it was 12 per 100,000. Firearm-related deaths totaled 31,672 in 2010. ..."
The rates are actually quite similar, but we put little effort into reducing gun violence and much effort into reducing traffic deaths.
"Since the nonsensical Clinton gun controls have expired, including limitations on magazine size, gun violence has decreased." The same article also takes issue with that often repeated claim:
"... He said there's no need for legislation: Since the assault rifle ban ended in 2004, he said there has been twice as large a drop in firearm deaths.
But experts from the National Academies of Science's National Research Council have taken issue with his numbers, which also don't gel with the CDC's findings. In 2004, there were 11,624 gun homicides -- up from 10,828 in 1999. When the assault rifle ban ended, the numbers shot up to 12,632 in 2007 before slowly coming back down to 11,098 in 2010. There has been a corresponding decrease in violence in those years, leading researchers to say a correlation between the end of the ban and fewer gun murders is impossible to make. Deaths from accidental discharges dropped from 824 in 1999 to 600 in 2009. Firearm homicides rose from 10,828 in 1999 to 11,493 in 2009, a 6% increase. ..."
Comment: #10
Posted by: Mark
Thu Apr 4, 2013 12:22 AM

Regarding Seattle/Vancouver, you are making wholesale assumptions not supported in the least by facts and quite possible are better explained by cultural differences whereas with Chicago and New York City there are ample supporting facts.

Regarding background checks, have you tried to buy a gun? I have and the background checks are performed by the honest stores. They take only a few minutes and are run through a federal agency. No, dishonest stores may not perform proper background checks but just what law will be passed that changes that? If they disobey now won't they also disobey the new law? Requiring individuals to perform background checks is not feasible. Private individuals can not access the database(s). This is depriving an individual of their rights to private property, they can't sell what and when they wish. How many of our natural rights are gun control advocates willing to surrender? Somewhere around here is where the phrase “enforce current laws” is apropos.

I used automobiles as an analogy because of the blatant and very obvious flaws yet you only see the regulations and pronounce them good. The problem is the automobile regulations actually serve only one purpose and does that poorly, collect revenue for local municipalities. There are drunks constantly plying the road ways, we had a drunk driver run over a father and four year old son, killing the son, who had been arrested for being under the influence 17 times, not a typo, seventeen times. These types of stories are not uncommon. There are numerous old people that have absolutely no business being on the road but no one wants to suffer the political backlash of taking away an elderly person's driving privileges, no matter how warranted. I've seen people that can barely walk in the motor vehicle department that get their licenses with no questions asked nor demonstration of physical ability to properly operate a car required.

Now let's get o the issue of firearm fatalities vs. auto fatalities. First of all the current gun control uproar seems to be focusing on “assault” weapons. A misnomer to be sure but everyone knows what is meant when they hear the term so I don't disagree with the use of it. I'm sure you have heard in recent discourse that more people are killed with hammers or baseball bats than are killed with assault weapons, I believe the most quoted number being 300+ per year and the traffic fatalities are approximately 35,000+ so therein was the basis for my factor of 100. But you probably want to bring this issue out on a wider playing field so let's do that.

The article you pasted in your rebuttal quotes 31,672 firearms deaths with a rate of 10 per 100,000, however that includes suicides which would not be impacted in the least by any gun control legislation whatsoever and not germane to this conversation. To carry this discussion further one would have to remove the gun related suicides which for 2010, the year quoted in the article, were 19,392 and a rate of 6.3 per 100,000. When that is done there remains 12,280 and a rate of 3.7, one third the rate of auto fatalities (these figures from the CDC web site).

The final statistic that firearm homicides increased by 6% is blatantly misleading, while there were 6% more firearm homicides during that time (assuming they are presenting accurate data) the US population during that same period increased by 10.4%. Now, its just common sense that when there are more people there will be more food consumed, laws broken, etc. So when looking at those numbers the “rate” of homicides by firearm have actually dropped by nearly half and that during a time of reduced gun control.

You also mention laws that make fully automatic weapons illegal and RPGs illegal. Well, we also make it illegal for regular citizens to own dynamite but they are allowed to have numerous fireworks, including massive aerial mortars that used to be the province of commercial public displays. The Aurora, Colorado shooter had booby trapped his apartment with 30 homemade grenades, “The sophisticated setup at the sparsely furnished third-floor, one-bedroom apartment of James E. Holmes was meant to harm, or possibly kill, anyone who entered -- and tested the skills of bomb squad members charged with clearing it.”. Tested their skills it did. On a personal note, 20 some years ago while working in South Florida I had the opportunity, but decline, to buy military hand grenades for $50 each.

Gun control laws only infringe on law abiding citizens, not the ones we want to stop. These proposed legislative efforts are much like the old days of medicine where the “doctors” would use leaches to let blood from sick people and actually helped more people to an early grave and did absolutely nothing to help those that did eventually recover from their illnesses. 50 years from now people will laugh about these pathetic efforts while they discuss controlling phasers or some instrument at that time being used by the evil at that time.

My apologies for droning on, a simple answer didn't seem appropriate.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Ed Boyle
Thu Apr 4, 2013 10:47 AM
"A gun can also come in handy if a pit bull or some other dangerous animal is after you or your child."
Just about every town and city I know of has some form of "Animal Control", and yet animal attacks still continue. I suppose that we could just simply kill every single animal on the planet. That would be a permanent solution to the animal attacks, but this would cause massive food shortages so that many people would starve to death & the remainder of us would be forced to be lifelong vegetarians. Many people without their pets would be very LONELY, and the whole eco-system would be devastated - Not a very good idea, but "if it saves one life"...
Comment: #12
Posted by: M Cherry
Thu Apr 4, 2013 4:32 PM
I have seen the anti-gun media portray people up to
28 years old as "children" whenever it concerns shooting victims &
when compiling the statistics of such. Well, after all, aren't every
single one of us someone's "child"? Even an 110 year old man or woman
is someone's "child", regardless that both parents are long dead. I
once had a video clip that I recorded off TV of an anti-gun
demonstration where they displayed shoes that had belonged to "child"
victims of gun violence. Each pair of shoes was displayed with a card
with the "child's" name, Date of Birth, and Date of Death. This was
several years ago, but I remember one very large pair in particular
that was shown onscreen. I took the D.O.B., the D.O.D., and then did
the math. That particular "child" was 28 years old when he was shot
to death. On the same video clip, the anti-gunners rang a big bell 13
times for the supposed 13 "children" [sic] a day that were killed by
guns in America. I think that this demonstration occurred shortly
after Columbine, to take advantage of people's emotional states due to
that tragedy.
Comment: #13
Posted by: M Cherry
Thu Apr 4, 2013 4:37 PM
Gun Control works in Venezuela! Venezuela has a total ban on private firearms. Only agents of the government, police, and military are allowed to have guns. In just the year 2012 alone, Venezuela had only 21,692
murders in a country with 29 million population. That works out to only the tiny amount of
73 per 100,000. Compare that to the HUGE amount of 4.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. ; )
Comment: #14
Posted by: M Cherry
Thu Apr 4, 2013 4:47 PM
Winnipeg is the Canadian city with the worst crime rate in Canada. The Detroit or New Orleans of Canada, if you will. It's homicide rate is about 5 per 100,000 of population. Seattle, considered to be one of the safer cities in the US, has a homicide rate of about 4 per 100,000 of population. I realize that we are not likely to go the Canadian route on gun control, but pretending that we are not paying a price for the prevalence of guns in our society strikes me as silly.
If you maintain a moderately easy path around the background check process where direct sales by individuals are exempt, there is not much point to the background checks. Bad guys are not going to follow the rules. If all sales require the checks, it will be up to the government to provide access to the system. Example: Buyer and seller go to the local police department or post office and process the check there. (An advantage to the former is that buyers with warrants might be especially nervous about the location.) Any such legislation must provide the access.
Using your preferred number, 12,280 X 100 = 1,228,000 For motor vehicle death rates to be "100 times higher" than firearm death rates would have the numbers killed on the highways at well over a million per year... I realize that your original comment was hyperbole, but keeping real numbers in mind avoids trivializing the very real issues surrounding firearms deaths.
The point on RPGs and fully automatic weapons remains. They are strictly controlled and, thus, are not used in crime. Yes, it is possible to acquire them, especially fully automatic guns. (If you are mechanically cleaver, it is quite possible to alter many semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic.) Strict gun control clearly works with these weapons and the lack of a body count clearly backs up that claim.
The NRA would like to keep gun control at the doctors-with-leaches stage. That is why the CDC has been blocked from studying the problem. That is why the ATF has been forbidden from releasing data on which types of guns from which dealers are more commonly used in crime. (Wouldn't it be useful to know if dealer X sold a major portion of the guns that later turned up used in crime? Wouldn't honest dealers want the bad apples identified?) Dealers can't even be required to do an annual inventory of their stock to prove that they are actually running the required background checks from all buyers. A good start would be to free those agencies to do the hard lifting on sorting out what works. I hope that fifty years from now we will have sorted out what works and that people will marvel at how the NRA nearly destroyed the process.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Mark
Sun Apr 7, 2013 10:58 AM

You had me thinking that you were actually trying to make honest conversation until I read the part where, despite my complete explanation of my 100 times comment, you deliberately mischaracterize my argument to demean my point of view. But what should one expect from someone whose point of view is so bankrupt that the only way to advance a conversation is to distort the other person's point of view. You and Sweeney should start a club.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Ed Boyle
Mon Apr 8, 2013 7:04 AM
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