For over 20 years, Don B. Kates, Jr., has served as one of the more avid spokespersons for an individual right to keep and bear arms. Kates has developed arguments about the meaning of the Second Amendment, rejecting the collective view in favor of the individualistic interpretation of the right to keep and bear arms. He contends that the word "people" used in the Second Amendment has the same referent as it does in other amendments; it indicates individual persons. Aside from the constitutional arguments regarding firearms ownership as an individual right, Kates claims that gun control fails to produce the results its proponents profess. He asserts that such measures as banning handguns would have little effect on the level of violence in society. Instead, violence can be reduced only through changes in social and economic institutions and in the basic beliefs and values of the population.
Kates received a B.A. from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and a law degree from Yale University. In the 1960s, he was a civil rights worker, assisting such civil rights lawyers as William Kunstler. Helping with the federal War on Poverty program, Kates focused on civil rights and police misconduct cases. He began carrying a firearm for self- protection during the more violent period of the civil rights movement. After teaching constitutional law and criminal procedure at St. Louis University Law School, Kates opened a private law practice in San Francisco.
In an article published in 1976, Kates explained why he, a civil libertarian, opposed gun control. He explained that a civil libertarian must not trust the military and the police, who have a monopoly on armament, with the authority to decide who may possess firearms. Kates adhered to the replacement hypothesis: those who want to commit violence will do so, whether with a gun, knife, or other device. A firearm simply serves as one instrument for criminal activity.
In the 1990s, Kates focused on the public health researchers who were employing an epidemiological approach to investigating firearms and violence. He accused such researchers--whom he called "health sages"-- not only of conducting bad science, but of intellectual dishonesty, "systematically inventing, misinterpreting, selecting, or otherwise manipulating data to validate preordained political conclusions." Questioning the integrity of health care researchers, Kates charged them with "fraudulent omission of material fact" and "overt misrepresentation of facts." He accused these researchers of suppressing information about declines in accidental gun fatalities and accidental child gun deaths, and misrepresenting the relationship between gun ownership and the homicide rate. Kates objected especially to the assumption that ordinary law-abiding citizens are more likely to commit murder simply because they own fire-