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Published on Tuesday, April 18, 2000 in the Cape Cod Times
The Defense Of Fear Inc.
by Sean Gonsalves
Back in February I wrote a column questioning a few premises of the gun rights argument. I've been getting email and letters from freedom-loving firearm fans ever since.

I used the phrase "freedom loving" because, having corresponded with a few gun rights apologists, it became clear to me that their yearning for liberty is genuine. Several told me they were willing to die for their freedom!

That's commendable. Dr. King once said: "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live." Amen. But let me add, as I'm sure King would agree, dying for a cause shouldn't be confused with killing for a cause.

In all the emails I received from firearm proponents, I discovered two common denominators. They were all written by white men. And, for them, guns boiled down to the issue of self defense.

So naturally, the first question that comes to my mind is: What explains this apparent contingent of white brothers ("the angry white male" perhaps?) who feel so threatened?

This, of course, raises the question: who are the "criminals"? Poor folks - black and Latino, mostly. At least, that's the popular perception. Isn't that how we justify the fact that black and brown people make up a disproportionate number of our exploding prison population? "They" commit more "crimes," we are supposed to believe.

So I'm wondering why blacks are not joining the NRA in droves. The overwhelming majority of black "criminals" - a minority group within black America - commit their crimes against other blacks.

So who are white gun advocates protecting themselves against?

You think the gun industry doesn't cash in on the fear and hysteria generated by racial tensions, in particular, and social unrest, in general? Many gun manufacturers owe their existence to it.

In a 1981 interview, Charter Arms president David Ecker made some revealing remarks about his company's rise in the 1960s.

"You had a terrific civil rights problem, with riots all across the country. There was a terrific boom in firearms sales. So any firearm that was being manufactured or imported was being sold," he said. Profit from fear. Ain't capitalism great - capitalize on xenophobia.

Remember the 1992 Los Angeles "riots"? According to the California State Justice Department, there was a 46 percent increase in the number of gun applications in the four weeks after the uprisings, compared to the same period the year before.

The NRA's American Rifleman magazine added fuel to the fire, commenting that the "riots" provided "thousands and thousands of grim lessons....on the meaning of the Second Amendment."

As fears subsided, so did gun sales. Sales dropped off 14 percent statewide from 1993 to 1994, and there was a 25 percent dip in Los Angeles County.

Besides the fact that the gun industry has a vested interest in mass hysteria, there are less racially explosive facts that need to be confronted.

Firearm fans love to cite a "study" that was done by Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University. Kleck's work alleges that civilians use guns in self defense up to 2.5 million times a year. But Dr. David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health, examined Kleck's methodology and, in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, concluded that the study had a "huge overestimation bias."

To expose the slipshod scholarship of Kleck and his colleague, Mark Gertz, Hemenway applied their methodology to a 1994 ABC News/Washington Post survey that asked the respondents if they had ever come into contact with an alien or seen an alien space ship. With the Kleck and Gertz method being applied to the alien question, you would be left with the following results: 20 million Americans have seen an alien space ship, and over a million have actually met a being from another planet.

Lastly, The New England Journal of Medicine reports that for every case in which someone used a gun kept in the home in a self-defense homicide, there were 1.3 unintentional deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides and 37 suicides.

It doesn't necessarily follow that gun ownership should be outlawed. However, it does suggest that the self-defense argument is a lot of gun industry propaganda.

And imagine someone arguing that Uncle Sam is conspiring to take away our freedoms because of government regulation of beef production. It's absurd, yet gun lobbyists argue that public health and safety regulations are bad for consumers - if they regulate guns. Say what?

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. His column runs on Tuesdays. Call him at (508) 775-1200, ext. 719. He can be reached via email:

Copyright 2000 Cape Cod Times


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