Gun Play: What Kids Don't Know about Guns Can Kill Them

By Kopel, David B. | Reason, July 1993 | Go to article overview

Gun Play: What Kids Don't Know about Guns Can Kill Them


Kopel, David B., Reason


Beneath the main headline is a photograph of Jim Brady, the former White House press secretary who was wounded and disabled in John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Reagan. (The ad appeared on March 30, the 12th anniversary Hinckley's attack.) Brady's picture is flanked by quotes from urban kids discussing their fears of gun violence. The text below his picture implores Americans to support the so-called Brady Bill, which would impose a nationwide, seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases. "I'm not asking you to do it for me," Brady says. "But do it for our kids."

The ad, purchased by Handgun Control Inc., reflects the theme of the organization's latest push for the Brady Bill. In a February press conference, Brady, Jim Brady's wife and Handgun Control's chairwoman, noted that nearly 4,000 Americans under the age of 20 had been murdered in 1991. (That number, actually closer to 3,700, covers a lot of ground. It's based on arrests, so it includes 18-year-old armed robbers shot by their victims. It also includes 19-year-old crack dealers shot by competitors.) Acting Attorney General Stewart Gerson added that the Department of Justice endorsed the Brady Bill because he was sick of seeing kids gunned down in random violence.

Neither Brady nor Gerson suggested how many lives the Brady Bill might save. Nor did they cite studies showing how similar laws, enacted by more than 20 states, have reduced crime. That's because there are no such studies. All the scholarly research has found that laws like the Brady Bill have no statistically significant impact on crime.

But the whole idea of asking people to "do it for our kids" is to avoid such analysis. Gun-control advocates are hammering at the issue of children and guns as never before will be easier to enact gun controls aimed at adults in an atmosphere of panic about children. Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), for example, says firearms are "infecting" America's schools; he has proposed the confiscation of all civilian-owned handguns. Chafee insists that America must "do something" about the current "handgun slaughter," in which "our children are being killed and are killing," for "sooner rather than later every family in the U.S. will be touched by handgun violence." His confiscation legislation won immediate support from "prochild" lobbies such as the Children's Defense Fund and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The idea of curtailing the rights of adults to protect children is hardly new to American politics. Prohibitionists have used this tactic in arguing for bans on alcohol, marijuana, sexually explicit literature, homosexual behavior, lawn darts, and just about everything else they have ever sought to outlaw. It's precisely because such efforts have so often been successful that the talk about protecting children through gun control should not be dismissed as mere rhetoric. Threats to children, whether real or imagined, tend to short-circuit rational discussion. Gun-control proposals should not escape critical examination simply because their supporters paint a horrifying picture of children at risk.

America does have a serious problem with children and guns, but it's a problem quite different from the one described by America's gun prohibitionists and their Washington allies. Indeed, it's a problem that has been aggravated by anti-gun laws.

Consider how the repressive gun laws of cities such as Chicago, Washington, and New York drive responsible gun use underground. While a man who operates a bodega on the Lower East Side of New York City may keep an illegal pistol hidden under the counter in case of a robbery, he is not likely to take the gun to a target range for practice. Even if the storekeeper managed to get a gun license, he could not take his teenage son to a target range to teach him responsible firearm use. Just to hold the gun in his hand under immediate adult supervision at a licensed range, the teenager would have to obtain his own permit. …

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