When you live in the consummately secular New York City, it's easy to feel like a sinner if you oppose more gun control. One of the quickest ways to tease out the virtually religious commitment some folks have to demonizing dissent from the dogma du jour on guns is to suggest – just suggest! -- that empirical evidence might be relevant to the discussion.
But let’s play with the temptation. Just briefly, folks, just briefly.
Last November, after the horrendous Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, an article appeared in a media outlet no less mainstream than The Atlantic that committed the unpardonable sin of presenting empirical information about guns.
It was written by Jeffery Goldberg, the publication’s national correspondent and a recipient of a National Magazine Award for reporting. I’m pretty sure he's not a shill for the National Rifle Association, a Republican, or an agent of Glenn Beck.
In “The Case for More Guns (and More Gun Control),” Goldberg eschewed the standard journalistic pose of moral superiority and managed to unearth some inconvenient truths. For example:
-- People who have concealed-carry permits commit crimes at a rate lower than that of the general population, according to Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who wrote "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right To Bear Arms in America." He says: "We don't see much bloodshed from concealed-carry permit holders, because they are law-abiding people."
-- Passing concealed-carry laws doesn't increase shootings. Ohio, for example, passed such a law in 2002. According to the received wisdom, the state's firearm crime rate should have gone up. But it didn't. And it hasn't.
-- Guns enable lots and lots of Americans to stop crimes. In the late 1990s Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist, studied the frequency with which a crime was stopped because either the intended victim or a bystander was armed and used or displayed a firearm. His best estimate is between 830,000 and 2.45 million times per year.
-- One crime that guns enable people to stop is murder. Here are three examples:
In December 2007 a man armed with a semiautomatic rifle and two pistols went into a Colorado Springs, Colo., church and shot two teenage girls dead. Before he could take out any more victims, a volunteer church security guard shot the bad guy and wounded him. The gunman then took his own life.
In January 2002 a man entered the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., and shot dead three people, after which two students, both off-duty law officers, got their weapons and pointed them at the shooter, and he surrendered.
In 1997, a 16-year-old high school student shot and killed two people at a high school in Pearl, Miss. He then started driving toward a nearby junior high to continue his shooting spree when the assistant principal of the high school got his pistol and aimed it at the shooter as he was driving away in his pickup truck. The shooter swerved off the road and came to a stop, at which point the principal ran up to him and put his firearm to the shooter's neck. The shooter surrendered.
After his investigation, Goldberg advanced a couple of conclusions, one for the right, another for the left.
“Conservative gun-rights advocates should acknowledge that if more states had stringent universal background checks -- or if a federal law put these in place -- more guns would be kept out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally unstable. They should also acknowledge that requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows would not represent a threat to the Constitution," he writes.
"Anti-gun advocates, meanwhile, should acknowledge that gun-control legislation is not the only answer to gun violence. Responsible gun ownership is also an answer," he writes. "An enormous number of Americans believe this to be the case, and gun-control advocates do themselves no favors when they demonize gun owners, and advocates of armed self-defense, as backwoods barbarians."
It took some moxy to write this article, considering the intensity with which gun owners and manufacturers are being demonized, especially after Sandy Hook. But hey, sometimes faith can be shaken.
Readers of a certain age may remember the marvelous song from the 1935 Broadway show “Porgy and Bess" entitled “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” In songwriter Ira Gershwin's day, religious fundamentalism was a big target of lyricists. In the 78 years since, religious fundamentalism in the U.S. has been exorcised, at least from the Northeast. But there’s a secular fundamentalism in its place now that makes a similarly tempting target. And it’s easy to hit -- hell, you’ll almost bump into it -- if you’re willing to toy with the heresy that today's gun control dogma “ain’t necessarily so.”