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Do the Facts Matter?

I graduated from the University of Southern California in 1993. The year before, final exams were canceled because the school couldn’t guarantee the safety of its students in the midst of the Rodney King riots. My friends and I holed up in my aunt and uncle’s house in Bel Air for three days as we watched the city burn on television.

During my senior year at SC, I lived in a house on the corner of Hoover and 32nd Street, an area where armed gang members outnumber armed policemen by a ratio of 20 to 1. The sound of gunfire was a nightly occurrence, and I remember the one night I actually saw the sound of the blasts accompanied by tiny little flecks of light right outside my window. I realized that that gun held at a slightly different angle would’ve put me directly in the path of those bullets. A sobering moment, indeed.

A fellow student told me she used to call the police every time she heard gunshots. Finally, the officer on duty one night said to her, “Look, don’t you know where you are? Call me when you find a body.”

Still, despite the obvious dangers, I did not own a gun personally, nor did I have any desire to do so. A guy like me who spends an average of 30 minutes a day looking for his keys isn’t the kind of dude you want to entrust with an object designed to kill people. I don’t like guns. If banning them would prevent or even decrease the incidence of carnage and murder, I’d be the first in line to make it happen, Second Amendment be damned.

So when one monster after another unleashes hell on earth and slaughters innocents, I find myself very uncomfortable defending gun rights. Unfortunately, the facts don’t leave me any other choice.

A 2007 research study conducted at Harvard University, hardly the center of the right-wing conspiracy, concluded that most popular assumptions about the correlation between gun availability and gun violence are predicated on false premises. From the study:

There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so.

The researchers conclude that there is a correlation between gun ownership and murder, but it’s precisely the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would have you believe. Where gun ownership increases, violence and murder decrease. It seems those who are stymied by gun laws are not the ones who willfully slaughter children. In addition, monsters tend to thrive in so-called “gun-free zones” because they know they will not encounter any opposition from the law-abiding.

My brother-in-law wrote a column on this subject in today’s Deseret News. I quote him at length:

I am not a gun owner or a hunter, but I have friends who are members of the American gun culture in good standing. These are people who gleefully take a buck home every season, raise their children to use firearms, own handguns for self-defense and pledge symbolic allegiance to the Second Amendment and an armed citizenry ready to violently resist tyranny. They have been raised in a world of guns, and they live in a world of guns.

These also are not the kind of people who start shooting innocent children, nor does their culture encourage such things. They imagine the gun owner as a defender of the weak and a provider for the family. They do not exalt the nihilistic tough guy mowing down innocents with automatic weapons. The soil from which that cultural image springs lies elsewhere.

All of this is true, but none of it is emotionally satisfying. We all saw horror, and we all want the horror squashed, destroyed, and vanquished forever. That’s why banning guns feels good. It feels like it will make guns go away and save lives. But feelings aren’t facts. Gun bans don’t save lives. They exacerbate the very problem they are designed to solve.

I wish it were otherwise. But it isn’t. Shouldn’t that make a difference in how we approach this problem?

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