Lara Marlowe recently published an anti gun article on IrishTimes.com. The article calls Americans irrational for owning guns, and makes a variety of factually flawed anti gun arguments. Relevant portions of the article, and my responses, are below:
AMERICA: Cities and states that restrict gun ownership are seeing that prerogative threatened by the Supreme Court
Although I don’t like to get bogged down in semantics, I am compelled to first address Ms. Marlowe’s use of the word “prerogative.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “prerogative” to be “an exclusive or special right, power, or privilege.” Essentially, Ms. Marlowe is asserting that state and local governments in the United States have an “exclusive or special right, power, or privilege” to ban law abiding citizens from owning a gun. As an attorney at law, I disagree. Firstly, many states have a right to keep and bear arms in their state constitution – expressly guaranteeing the right of law abiding citizens to own guns and negating Ms. Marlowe’s contention. Secondly, in the American system of government, the Supreme Court (not state or local governments) has the final say on the constitutionality of a law. That means that when the Supreme Court strikes down a handgun ban (as it did in D.C. v. Heller, and will hopefully soon do in McDonald v. Chicago), that handgun ban was an unconstitutional law that should never have existed in the first place – not a violation of the government’s prerogative. Finally, the right to keep and bear arms is a basic human right, independent of the constitution, further negating the idea that banning guns is a prerogative of state and local government.
The historian Richard Hofstadter coined the phrase “gun culture” to describe America’s love affair with firearms. An estimated 25 per cent of American adults own guns, and one in two American adults live in a household with guns.
This streak of irrationality flowing through the American psyche has a little flag stuck in it, with the words “Second Amendment” emblazoned on it. Gun enthusiasts cite their God-given right so often that one must quote the passage from the Constitution in full: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
This irrational streak is impervious to the fact that guns kill. The Centre for Disease Control confirms that in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available, firearms accounted for 67 per cent of the 18,573 homicides in the US.
Here, Ms. Marlowe calls Americans irrational, attempts to blame guns for the intentional actions of criminals, and implicitly suggest that banning guns would have prevented these killings. Allow me to point out the logical flaws in that reasoning:
Murders don’t occur simply because a gun is present, any more than it the mere presence of alcohol and cars causes drunk driving fatalities. Whether we’re talking about guns-related murders or drunk driving deaths, it is the intentional actions of a human being that are to blame.
Ms. Marlowe relies heavily on statistics in her article, yet seems to miss a major statistic point that undercuts her argument: the presence of guns is not statically correlated to gun-related crime. Instead, there are hundreds of millions of guns in the United States, and only about 10,000 gun-related murders each year. For comparison, there is a greater connection between owning a car and killing someone with that car than owning a gun and killing someone with that gun (note that there are about 50,000 traffic fatalities each year in the USA, most of which are completely preventable).
Furthermore, Ms. Marlowe’s argument ignores the fact that criminals, by definition, don’t obey the law. A person who is willing to commit a murder will logically be willing to break a much less severely punished gun ban law. The same is true for criminals who set out to commit rape, robbery, kidnapping, or any other serious crime. Until criminals start obeying the law, having a law against gun ownership won’t deter criminals any more than our laws against murder serve to prevent that crime from occurring. Instead, gun bans just ensure that crime victims are defenseless and at the non-existent mercy of the still-armed or physically stronger criminals.
Since real-life evidence is worth more than theoretical reasoning, let us turn to gun control data from Ms. Marlowe’s own backyard. In England, a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic shooting resulted in the passage a series of laws that banned most gun ownership, and and even restricted the carrying of knives. These anti gun laws went as far as to ban the .22 target pistols used by the British Olympic Pistol Team, forcing those athletes to go to Switzerland and France to practice their sport. However, the gun ban laws didn’t stop criminals from acquiring and misusing guns. Instead, British criminals buy their guns the black market, or simply manufacture their own illegal guns. Crime statistics reflect this fact, showing a 40% increase in handgun related crime in the first two years after the gun ban took effect. British gun-related crime went on to double in the following decade, and stabbings rose sharply as well. Disarmed by the strict gun laws, defenseless British citizens were increasing murdered, raped, robbed, tortured, beaten, and otherwise victimized by the still-armed criminals. Adding insult to injury, those few citizens who used guns or their blunt objects to fend off criminals often faced more time in jail than their violent attackers, on the theory that a citizen is not privileged to use force in self defense.
And if the statistics weren’t convincing enough, there’s a long line of assassinations and mass killings, made possible by the easy availability of weapons: Columbine High in Colorado, where two students killed 13 people before committing suicide in 1999; Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people and himself in 2007. Just last month, Amy Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama, shot six of her colleagues, killing three of them.
In the above paragraph, Ms. Marlowe cites to the numerous cases in which criminals violated numerous gun control laws (and the law against murder) as they set about killing defenseless victims in “gun free zones.” Those tragic killings show what happens when gun control laws disarm the law abiding members of society, leaving them at the mercy of homicidal (and often suicidal) criminals who are bent on killing as many people as they can. Such killers scoff at gun control laws, and appreciate the fact that the law has inadvertently given them a monopoly on firepower.
It is also worth noting that mass killings are not just an American or gun-related phenomenon. As an example, this Japanese man allegedly his car and a knife to kill 7 people and injure 11 more. As another example, more than 10 infants were brutally stabbed in Belgium by a criminal. The worst case of mass murder in the US, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, involved 19 people armed only with box cutters – the result was that thousands of Americans died. Killing, including mass killing, has been around since long before the invention of gun powder.
In 29 US states, it’s legal to carry a loaded handgun without any form of permit. And those cities and states which restrict gun ownership now see that prerogative threatened by none other than the US Supreme Court.
I don’t see a problem with that fact. Indeed, the only problem that I see is that citizens in the other 21 states are often subject to arbitrary and capricious denials of their right to have a gun for self defense. What Ms. Marlowe neglects to mention is that areas with the least restrictive gun laws tend to have the lowest crime, while areas with the most restrictive gun laws tend to have the highest crime.
In the 2008 District of Columbia v Heller case, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on hand guns in the nation’s capital on the grounds it violated the Second Amendment – ignoring the fact that the amendment apparently referred to state militias, not individuals.
My jaw dropped when I read the above quote from Ms. Marlowe’s article. In that quote, she presumes to to tell the highest court in the United States that it doesn’t know how to interpret the United States Constitution. Looking at her biography, Ms. Marlowe isn’t an attorney, a judge, or otherwise qualified to tell the Supreme Court how to interpret the constitution. Speaking as an attorney, and someone who has studied the matter in detail, I can say that it is my considered opinion that the Supreme Court got it right in D.C. v. Heller. For those who would like to read the full text of the Supreme Court’s opinion in that case, which does a great job explaining why the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, that opinion can be found here.
When Steven Breyer, a liberal justice, asked if cities couldn’t ban guns if that meant “saving hundreds of lives”, the conservative justice Antonin Scalia retorted: “We don’t resolve questions like that on the basis of statistics.”
Justice Scalia is very correct. The constitution is the supreme law of the United States, and cannot be circumvented by (flawed) arguments that doing so would save lives. This is such a basic point of law that I won’t spend any more time arguing it, other than to note that if Ms. Marlowe were as legally qualified as she implied by second-guessing the Supreme Court, she wouldn’t have taken exception to Justice Scalia’s statement.
I’ll close by noting that Ms. Marlowe doesn’t spend a single word discussing the effectiveness of self defense, and instead sweeps that inconvenient topic under the rug. The fact is that armed Americans use their guns in self defense about 2,500,000 times each year, preventing murders, domestic violence, rapes, home invasions, robberies, kidnappings, stabbings, burglaries, and every other type of violent crime. I write about a tiny tiny tiny fraction of those armed self defense cases, and many pages of examples can be seen here and here.
My thanks to Anders for pointing out Lara Marlowe’s anti gun article.