Some of you will scoff at that headline. America was never not a gun nation. Our population was armed even before the shot heard ’round the world. In fact, I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that the Second Amendment is what separates the United States from all the countries that are not the United States. Having traveled the world and spent 18 years in England watching taxes rise and liberty recede, I’m convinced that the UK’s handgun ban signaled post-Thatcher Britain’s final re-descent into Big Brother socialism. False synchronicity? Perhaps. Or perhaps the balance of power that enables democracy is, at its core, a real balance of power. In any case, when it comes to guns, the UK is going in one direction. The U.S., another. But where?
John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime points us in the right direction (so to speak). That’s especially true for people who haven’t read the book. Which is most everyone; even those who bought it.
No matter. Americans who couldn’t possibly wade through Lott’s pro-gun stats—myself included—are buying in. Literally. We’re buying guns to reduce crime. More specifically, we’re buying guns to reduce our exposure to crime. I repeat: gun buyers aren’t pursuing a firearms-related social agenda. Their private arsenal is an entirely selfish response to the indestructible nature—not to say eternal existence—of criminal activity.
If I had to identify a trend unifying the gun politics populating these pages, it’s this growing sense of realism. Americans no longer believe the fiction that society can eliminate crime. Nor do they believe that the police can protect them and their families from its ravages, In other other words, American are arming themselves in increasing numbers as a matter of personal pragmatism.
It’s one of those chicken vs. egg deals.
Spurred by activists, voters are supporting legislation liberalizing gun laws. The new less restrictive gun laws are stimulating gun ownership. The newly enlarged base of firearms owners enables liberalized gun laws. And so it goes.
Whether you call this pattern a vicious or virtuous circle depends on your point of view. But the spiral’s direction—towards more and more gun ownership—is beyond doubt.
As I reported last week, after Virginia became a “shall issue” state (putting the onus on the government to prove that a citizen shouldn’t get a permit), concealed carry permits increased from some 2500 (1995) to 250k-plus (2009). In 2009, Virginia gun sales increased by 30 percent.
It’s only a matter of time before Virginia legislators roll back other onerous ownership restrictions. Meanwhile, states across the country are doing the same thing— and experiencing similar calls for less restrictive gun laws and concomitant sales spikes.
Taken as a whole, 2009 U.S. gun sales swelled by two million to 11 million weapons. Gun groups and the media ascribed the rise to the tail end of the Obama effect: getting a gat while the getting was good. I’m not so sure. U.S. gun industry sales stats (including demographic data) are harder to find than [accurate] wheat production figures for Stalin’s Russia. So there’s no telling. But we know three things.
First, so-called “black gun” sales accounted for much of the bump. (Those would be the weapons that gun owners thought Mr. Obama would ban.) Second, despite the surge, these “modern sporting rifles” didn’t account for the majority of 2009 sales. Garden variety handguns still devour for the lion’s share of the firearms biz. And third, it’s getting easier for American to purchase a gun.
Drilling down (at the risk of spilling the truth), the question becomes this: are newbies entering the American gun market or are existing gun owners re-upping, as enthusiasts are wont to do?
It’s probably the latter. I suspect that an growing number of previously non-active gun owners are re-entering the market. As they get their concealed carry permit, they’re buying new guns for the job. I’d also wager that there’s a slightly larger percentage of virgin gun owners breaking their ballistic cherry. It’s that number that’s set to explode.
Pro-gun activists are paving the way. Say what you will about open carry proponents’ tactical and political savvy, they know exactly what they’re doing. They’re “normalizing” gun ownership. When unarmed civilians see armed civilians, and nothing bad happens, they gradually get over their shock and lose their fear of guns. When the fear goes, so do the laws which depend on it for their existence. More than that, gun ownership becomes socially acceptable—in places where a firearm was previously considered inherently “bad.”
It’s worth noting that there’s no gun control debate in Israel. With or without a rising tide of terrorism, I can foresee a day when Americans will no longer argue over gun bans or concealed carry restrictions. The upcoming Supreme Court decision, striking down Chicago’s longstanding handgun ban, will mark the moment when America accelerated its journey towards its realization as a fully-fledged gun nation.
Keeping mind mind that the High Court’s decision is a top – down affair. Again, a grass roots pro-gun movement is already creating a sea change in American gun ownership attitudes and patterns. Just today, State Senator Dennis Stowel initiated legislation to force Utah’s schools to teach firearms education.
A number of organizations, including Davis County schools, have created educational programs that are neutral — neither pro-gun nor anti-gun — and that could fit into a half hour or less in a health class, he said. The major theme of these programs is the wisdom of telling an adult when a gun is present.
This website has long argued that Eddy the Eagle-style “leave it alone” firearms instruction is dangerously incomplete. But the “neutrality” of Utah’s limited firearms safety course is an even more ridiculous notion. The more Americans interact with guns, the more they will want to interact with guns. You don’t have to be a gun nut to see that. But it helps.
So is this move towards a more heavily armed society a good thing or a bad thing? Yes.
On the positive side, John Lott will be proved right—more guns will equal less crime. That’s provided a large number of law-abiding members of the low to middle-income communities plagued by crime get enough guns—in both absolute and percentage terms. And that’s discounting the possibility that firearms won’t make any difference at all; that law-abiding citizens will continue doing what they’re doing now to cope with crime (i.e. blow town).
On the negative side, there will be more negligent discharges leading to tragedy, more firearms-related “crimes of passion” and more firearms-involved suicides. But that’s in absolute terms. The percentage of legal gun owners whose actions qualify them for a Darwin Award or an appearance on America’s Most Wanted should be no greater than it is now.
Taken on balance, what will be, will be. Americans have a Second Amendment right to bear arms. The undeniable trend towards facilitating that right will incur collateral damage—just as the previous trend towards restricting it had its own unintended consequences.
One thing’s for sure: it’s a good time to be working in the firearms industry. And TTAG, newly refreshed, is there.