The Demonization of Gun Owners


The FBI reports that violent crime in the United States is at a thirty year low. Statistics from state governments show that citizens who hold concealed weapons permits are among the most law abiding in our society. States that issue permits demonstrate a larger drop in crime than those that don't.

Looking outside the U. S., strict new gun confiscation laws in Britain and Australia have had no significant impact on crime and a national gun registration scheme in Canada is being criticized as an expensive failure.

If not for a few high profile shooting incidents covered excessively by the media and exploited by politicians and gun control organizations, the gun control debate would be fading away.

Media participation in the campaign against guns cannot be blamed entirely on a liberal bias. The ratings-driven media must follow the dictum, "If it bleeds, it leads," so producers and reporters routinely emphasize gun crime coverage, using frightening terms like "assault weapon", "powerful", "deadly" and "automatic" which increase the public fear of guns. Armed criminals of any sort are called "gunman", regardless of the nature of their crime.

Some politicians feel they must exploit whatever emotional issues are available to increase their public exposure. They use dramatic, but factually unsound phrases like "guns flooding the streets" and "cop killer bullets". New laws of dubious value are constantly proposed. Some even threaten robbery victims with prison if their stolen guns are later used by a criminal.

Anti-gun organizations and celebrities portray gun owners as ignorant, irresponsible or worse. Celebrities have been known to state such extreme views as announcing that those who own guns, regardless of their legal right to do so, should go to prison. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million Americans own guns. The unreasoning fear and suspicion of gun owners resulting from this campaign are obvious in the following examples.

Traumatic school "lockdowns" after harmless gun sightings have become common. In Springfield, Oregon, students were terrified when a man with a gun was reported near the school. It turned out that the disassembled and unloaded gun was being taken to a nearby pawn shop. In Banks, Oregon, students were kept in lockdown for over three hours while state police were called in to hunt down a man with a gun seen in a nearby field. No such man was ever found and police speculated that perhaps some poor fellow was simply walking to a nearby skeet shooting range.

In San Clemente, California, a school groundskeeper who had won a large sexual harassment settlement from the local school district was the target of a dramatic SWAT team raid on his residence. He was held on one million dollars bail for the heinous crime of possessing allegedly stolen rakes and buckets. Someone, perhaps seeking revenge, tipped off the police that the man had a large gun collection.

News reports contained no mention of the man making threats or plotting violence; he simply owned guns. A school district administrator was quoted as saying, "I'm personally horrified that someone who has daily contact in the vicinity of children and teachers owned the arsenal he apparently had." Other officials crowed that they had prevented another Columbine. It is unlikely that the man will receive justice in a culture that vilifies gun owning citizens in this manner.

At a large university in Seattle, a white collar employee with an excellent work record was involved in a minor dispute over computer access. When he was called into the administrator's office to discuss it, two campus police officers were present. "We know you have a concealed weapons permit. Are you armed?" He was not, but the damage to his reputation had already been done. Apparently, a coworker who was competing with the man for a position had tipped off the administration that he was a gun owner.

The original dispute was all but forgotten and the employee was placed on indefinite leave to await the slow results of University justice while word spread across the campus that a "gun nut" had been exposed.

If any group can claim constitutional protection, it should be gun owners who have their own specialized amendment in the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, the long campaign against them is now producing a predictable result. In many parts of our society, anyone who owns a gun is automatically considered dangerous, violent or just plain different.

Fortunately, the American system is famously self-correcting. Behind the rhetorical fog, legal scholars have been researching the meaning of the Second Amendment. Agreement is growing that it really does apply to individuals, not the military, and sometime in the next Presidential term, a majority of Supreme Court Justices are expected to believe in a return to the original intent of the Constitution.

Eventually, the political pendulum will swing back to center or perhaps beyond, but one question will remain. If this minority, with such powerful constitutional protection, can be demonized in this manner, who can say which group will be next?

Copyright, Michael S. Brown, O.D., November 1999

May be distributed and reproduced freely in its complete form with author's name attached.

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