Molly Ivins

Feeling a Bit Gunshy


“My friends in the gun-nut lobby tell me they are sick and tired of people like me using this rash of multiple killings to make points in favor of gun control – and I can sure see how they’d be getting upset about that.

So, let me use the recent unpleasantness at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, to make one of their points, instead. My gun-nut friends often tell me these mass shootings wouldn’t happen if more people carried concealed weapons. How right they are: If those five-year-olds in Los Angeles had just been packing, none of ’em would have gotten hurt.”

I wrote the above shortly after the shootings, and didn’t use it on the grounds that it was too flip for the circumstances. The reason I’m using it now is because Thomas Sowell, a right-wing columnist from the Hoover Institute, actually wrote a column in all seriousness saying, yep, the solution to these mass killings is more guns. Incredibly, he argues that the mass killings have been taking place in white, middle-class settings, and wouldn’t happen in the ghettos or barrios because more folk there are packing.

I hate to tell him this, but if the murder rate in white, suburban America were the same as that in inner-city ghettos, we’d be confiscating guns by now.

I’m also amused by the gun-nut lobby huffing that the gun-control laws we have on the books now aren’t enforced, so what good would more gun-control laws do? The reason that’s such a hoot is because the gun lobby has done everything in its considerable power to prevent effective enforcement of gun-control laws, including arguing not just for defunding and underfunding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, but for abolishing it entirely. If you have ever seen an underfunded program, try the one that’s supposed to keep track of gun dealers.

For those of you who have not followed these funding wars over the years, the B.A.T.F. – which is known in the gun-nut community as “BATFAG” (cute, eh?) – is the focus of a cult of hatred among those on the far right. And if you think I am exaggerating or insulting these people by calling them gun nuts, I recommend that you find some of their Web sites, look at their material, and see what you think they should be called. Nor do I call them friends sardonically, since my public stands on the Koresh fiasco, Ruby Ridge, etc. have put us on the same side several times. Nevertheless, it is outside of enough for people who oppose gun-control laws and the agencies assigned to enforce them – groups that have done their best to destroy and underfund these agencies for years – to then criticize the same agencies for not doing their job well when the gun groups are the ones who have starved them of wherewithal to do it. The argument stinks.

It’s also past ripe to cite John Lott’s 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Lott’s study supposedly showed that when ten Western states passed “right-to-carry” laws between 1985 and 1992, they had less violent crime.


This study has now been debunked so many times that it’s irresponsible to quote it as though it proved anything. Not that Lott’s data is wrong, but as he himself admits, he didn’t look at any other causative factors – no other variables, as they say. As one reviewer noted, the results are so odd that, according to Lott’s research, getting rid of black women older than forty would do more to stop murder than anything else we could try – just one of several statistical absurdities. The January 1998 issue of The Journal of Legal Studies carries one important critical study of Lott’s work. The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence did a 1999 analysis of crime statistics that came to a conclusion opposite Lott’s, and their study (like his) is open to review by experts in many fields. The whole topic of ideologically tainted research is too large for this column, but it is worth noting that Lott, an Olin Fellow at the University of Chicago, is an enthusiastic libertarian and follower of the “Chicago school” theories of law and economics.

Far more useful is Making a Killing, a book by Tom Díaz concerning the gun industry – although I should note, anent my point about Lott’s bias, that Díaz is an analyst at the pro-gun-control Violence Policy Center. What Díaz has written is a work of journalism, however, and his sources are the gun manufacturers themselves, which is what makes the book so remarkable. Those of you who have questioned, as I have, whether suing gun manufacturers is not an example of trial lawyers overreaching will want to take a look at Díaz’ book. As with the tobacco companies, the truly appalling evidence is in their own words and marketing strategies.

Gun manufacturers faced a simple problem: A gun, if taken care of, does not wear out. And as the country has become more suburban and less rural, demand has gone down. So the industry had to create new markets, and what it has been selling are fear, more-lethal lethal weapons, and “Rambo” appeal. It’s a gruesomely fascinating marketing story – new cartridges with “fast knockdown” due to the “massive wound channel.”

I remain pro-knife. You have to catch someone before you can stab him, knives don’t ricochet, and people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives. A better deal.

Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her latest book is You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You. You may write to her via e-mail at [email protected].

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