Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control
by Don B. Kates and Gary Kleck
Prometheus Books * 2001 * 363 pages * $27.00
For 77 consecutive days in the fall of 1969 the Washington Post published editorials calling for stricter gun controls. This was something of a record, even for the Post, but it was, and remains, typical of a national media in which three-quarters of the newspapers and most of the periodical press vociferously support curbs on gun ownership. It is not merely media bias, however, that provoked Don B. Kates and Gary Kleck to write Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control. The press is entitled to its opinions. What concerns Kates and Kleck is the fact that this bias has carried over into news coverage and distorted the information presented to the public. At the same time that the national media treat the public to intense coverage of every gun accident or shooting and dutifully report every study that seems to justify firearm restrictions, they routinely downplay defensive uses of firearms and scholarly investigations that fail to find a link between legally owned firearms and violence. As a result, much of the ordinary American's "conventional wisdom" about the use and abuse of guns is simply wrong when all the available evidence is considered. Kates and Kleck hope to provide that unreported component and correct misconceptions.
Consider a few examples they cite of the conventional wisdom produced by unbalanced reporting. Kates points out that the publicity given every unfortunate accident in which a small child is killed by a gun has convinced the public such tragedies are both common and increasing. In fact, in a nation with some 2 million to 2.4 million privately owned firearms, gun accidents kill only ten to 20 children under the age of five each year, less than half the number who drown in the bathtub. While even one death would be one too many if guns served no useful function, studies such as Kleck's survey of defensive uses of guns, investigations rarely reported by the media, found that up to 2.5 million Americans use guns annually to defend themselves and their children. They may be rare, but are fatal gun accidents increasing? During the 30 years from 1968 through 1997, even as the stock of civilian firearms rose by 262 percent, fatal accidents dropped by 68.9 percent.
Then there is the conventional wisdom that armed citizens are likely to kill someone by mistake. It turns out that such erroneous killings by private gun owners total about 30 a year. The police, by contrast, erroneously kill five to 11 times that number. …