Gun Owners of America
(written for National Crime Monthly in 1995)
Anti-gun politicians and many police administrators have the idea that self defense is vigilantism. The push to enable more people to carry concealed firearms has often been met with disbelief by the elite -- "We can't have a bunch of shooters walking around out there!"
There seems to be no amount of facts that will convince such critics that the American people are not the irresponsible children they assume them to be. Many states which have made it easier for people to carry concealed have found little change in their murder rates, but then their homicide rates were below the national average to start with.
Florida's experience, however, was quite dramatic. In the first seven years following passage of the concealed carry law, the murder rate, which had been above the national average, fell 22 percent even while the national rate was rising 15 percent. Kennesaw, Georgia took a slightly different approach over a decade ago. The town required that every household have a gun and ammunition unless the homeowner was legally disqualified from gun ownership or had moral objections against using firearms. The armed burglary rate in Kennesaw over the next decade dropped over 75 percent from its previous level.
As a general matter, it is those areas of our country where firearms ownership is the highest that the murder rates are the lowest. We have ten states with murder rates below most European countries. Our lowest ten are all high firearms ownership states such as Montana, South Dakota and Vermont. The European countries (with the seldom mentioned exception of Switzerland) are the models of low crime and onerous gun control which Handgun Control would like us to emulate. Switzerland is one of those "troublesome" places where gun ownership is nearly universal and the murder rate is about the lowest in all of Europe.
Where the U.S. has high murder rates are precisely in those jurisdictions in which the effort to disarm the civilian population has been most successful -- Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.
About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to travel in Guatelmala and the Philippines. I found their successes in fighting guerrillas mirrored our own experience -- showing the benefits of an armed citizenry.
Both countries in the early eighties faced overthrow by well-entrenched guerrilla movements. In Guatemala, according to Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, genocide was being practiced. My own observations there led me to conclude that the Guatemalan military's response to the guerrillas had been genocidal up until a radical change in fighting the guerrillas was adopted under the government of Efrain Rios Montt.
The military had no way to know who the enemy was. Many Guatemalan officers pointed out to me that they saw the U.S. suffered from a similar problem in Vietnam. The guerrillas rooted themselves so deeply into the community while possessing a monopoly of firearms that they were even levying taxes. The people in those controlled areas had two choices -- cooperate with the guerrillas or die.
General Rios Montt changed three hundred years of policy in Guatemala. He decided that the government had to trust the people. He armed the farmers and taught them how to use their guns. The people all of a sudden could function as the eyes and ears of the military because they could fight back when the guerrillas retaliated. Within months, the military was able to track the guerrillas so well that they were able to force them into an untenable location and wipe them out in a pitched battle.
What genocide had not been able to accomplish for years and years, cooperation with an armed people brought peace within months.
Would it not be worth trying the same thing in our violence-torn cities? The criminal element operates nearly as effectively as the guerrillas. They penetrate deeply into the community and make it impossible for a disarmed center-city resident to cooperate with the police.
Someone may object that Guatemala's success came in the countryside, but that it would not work in the city. While I fail to see the logic of that response, the fact of the matter is, that in rather similar circumstances, armed militias put the guerrillas to rout in the Philippines -- in the cities.
When Maurice Turner was Chief of Police in Washington, D.C., he tried to do something that is still found in many counties around the U.S. He prepared people -- who lived in the most violent neighborhoods -- by sending them through the police academy so they could supplement the paid police force as volunteers. When the City Council realized that these auxiliaries would be armed, they prohibited them from carrying guns, thus killing the program and insuring that the murder rate in Washington would continue to climb.
We need to urge our politicians to stop treating us as the problem. We, the People, in addition to being their boss, are a necessary part of the answer to the crime problem.
(Larry Pratt is Executive Director of Gun Owners of America. He is the author of Armed People Victorious which chronicles the defeat of the Guatemalan and Philippine guerrillas. He is also the editor of Safeguarding Liberty which deals with citizens militias and the Constitution. His books can be ordered by calling 800 417 1486.)