Several months ago, when I wrote to the BBC Sunday Sequence program to refute the claim that SUVs have any significant impact on the climate, presenter William Crawley (who is an old friend) joked that I didn’t specify what kind of vehicle I drive myself. The implication was that the only reason I would defend SUV-owners must be that I was one myself!

Actually, at the time, I wasn’t. But it was a stark reminder of the political process we are expected to endure today: one particular group of people after another attempt to force the rest of us to comply with legislation that is favourable to them. The basic result is that we turn our law enforcement agents against each other all the time, deciding on the basis of how favourable each law is to our own ideas of how to live our lives whether or not to agree. It amazes me that both Left and Right have not yet found a better way: to simply support the free, rational decisions of other people and their rights to make them. To extend to others the same trust we have in ourselves to make good choices.

One who seems to understand this great libertarian principal is Ben Rosenfield, writing in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, who starts his article on the city handgun ban with, “I’m not an NRA [National Rifle Association] member or gun enthusiast. I have never owned a gun and probably never will. But I voted against San Francisco’s Proposition H [the handgun ban]. As a civil rights attorney, I am alarmed by people’s increasing willingness TO GIVE UP OTHER PEOPLE’S RIGHTS” [capitals mine].

Get that! Someone who actually wishes to ensure the freedoms of people whose viewpoints he might not even necessarily share! Like my own longrunning commentary in this blog on SUVs, charity, sex toys, guns, pornography, hamburgers, homosexuality, religion, or any number of things upon which people disagree, Rosenfield’s commentary acknowledges that people have natural rights to decide for themselves what to do about such things rather than be forced to comply with the wishes of the majority.

Let me talk a little about the handgun ban. Like Rosenfield, I am not a gun owner (although I may become one simply to piss off the libs). Proposition H was approved by voters last week in San Francisco (more like ‘PREPARATION H’ if you ask me) to great controversy. For non-US readers, United States government is based on a complicated system, consisting of several levels of power, all with different jurisdictions. There are federal, state, county and city lawmakers, all with different constituencies and all with their own police departments and court systems, which overlap in various interesting ways, and which are subservient to the Constitution of the United States. In this case, the city of San Francisco may have made a decision which will be overturned by court decision on the basis that it violates state law, or the Constitution.

The Constitution is one of those documents that many people now secretly wish was never drafted, a bit like the Bible. People disagree vehemently over the meaning of the text and the intentions of the authors, disagreements upon which many court battles have been fought at all levels. The 2nd Amendment is a field of landmines: “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.”

The subject of controversy centres, fundamentally, on who ‘the people’ are, and who constitutes the ‘militia’. Some court decisions have suggested that the Amendment refers only to law enforcement, others read the Constitution in light of the time in which it was written, when the ‘militia’ was composed of volunteer civilians more like today’s National Guard. But it seems that the following people may disagree: “Let [this people] take arms.” – Thomas Jefferson. “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms…” – Richard Henry Lee. “That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms…” – Samuel Adams. “Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walk.” – Thomas Jefferson. “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.” – George Mason. “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves?” – Tench Coxe. “…to disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them…” – George Mason. “A free people ought…to be armed…” – George Washington. And this particularly interesting quote: “Arms in the hands of citizens [may] be used at individual discretion…in private self-defense…” – John Adams, A defense of the Constitutions of the Government of the USA, 471 (1788).

Anyway. Regardless of whether the 2nd Amendment guarantees the lawful possession of a firearm, it seems to me that individual, adult possession of firearms is guaranteed anyway by some basic human rights, the kind of which Rosenfield speaks in today’s article. Allow me to deal with the pragmatic argument for the prohibition of handguns as enforced by Proposition H in San Francisco: “Supporters of Proposition H say that with 76 gun-related homicides this year and 90 last year, taking away people’s firearms will help fight crime.”

1) Ironically, of course, law enforcement will keep their firearms. So the police will be helping to fight crime, USING guns. Doesn’t that make nonsense of the idea that “taking away people’s firearms will help fight crime”? What is it that makes firearms in the hands of law enforcement a force which fights crime, but firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens an instrument which proliferates crime? And to what else can we apply this kind of reasoning separating law enforcement from citizens?

2-a) The nature of policing is that they are called to the scene in the event that something happens. In the case of the 76 gun-related homicides in San Francisco this year, obviously the victims had no chance to call them, or they came too late to do anything to prevent the homicides. In fact, isn’t it the case that they will ALWAYS be too late for a crime of this nature? One who is being attacked will be left to defend themselves by whatever means they can to save their lives.

2-b) Criminals, by definition, are those who do not obey the law. A law, therefore, that aims to fight crime by banning the possession of firearms, will only be obeyed by those who obey the law in the first place, and so do not fall into the category of criminals who will be affected by the law. In short, this law only takes guns away from people who would use them to defend themselves – it does not affect those who will use them to commit crime, so will not reduce the number of homicides.

2-c) The statistics confirm this point. The number of privately owned guns in the United States is at an all-time high, with an estimated 258 million firearms in America. Similarly, the number of “shall issue” right-to-carry (RTC) states is at an all-time high, up from 10 in 1987 to 38 today. These states (like Arizona, for example) now allow citizens to carry their firearms concealed, when they ask for a permit to do so. In 2004, states with RTC laws, compared to other states, had lower average violent crime rates. Homicide was lower by 28%, robbery lower by 43% and aggravated assault lower by 13%. According to FBI statistics, the nation’s total violent crime rate declined every single year between 1991 and 2004 (while a lot of these gun bans were revoked). The murder rate has fallen to a 29-year low, for example.

Has anything like Proposition H ever been attempted before? Funny you should ask. In Washington DC, the results of the city’s Firearms Control Regulations Act, imposed by the city council in 1976, were catastrophic. Homicide had been declining, but suddenly increased. By 1991 it had risen more than 200%, in comparison with 12% in the rest of the country (where possession of a firearm was a protected right). Indianapolis, which allows RTC and permits civilian handgun use for self-defense, has a homicide rate of 9 in every 100,000. Washington DC, after the handgun ban? 69 per 100,000. Are you getting this? Hundreds of innocent lives have been lost because legislators thought it would be best not to trust the general population to defend themselves.

The statistics do not lie. The US Department of Justice has found that 40% of felons have decided not to commit one or more particular crimes for fear their potential victims were armed. As states have eliminated prohibitory or restrictive gun laws (like Proposition H) and replaced them with RTC laws and less restrictive gun legislation, CRIME HAS GONE DOWN. By honoring the people’s rights to “keep and bear arms”, whether or not there is a Constitutional mandate for that right, PEOPLE ARE SAFER. Who do you think may have said this: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference…”? Some right-wing gun-nut? Actually, it was George Washington. (Not that it matters what he may have thought.)

As legal scholars Robert J Cottrol and Raymond T Diamond have written, “[A] society with a dismal record of protecting a people has a dubious claim on the right to disarm them … [I]t is unwise to place the means of protection totally in the hands of the state…”

You want to fight crime, San Francisco? Now you know what a dismal, wretched MISTAKE you made when you approved Proposition H.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net