OVER THE LAST THREE WEEKS, Americans have become ever more cognizant of a simple truth long ago obscured by ideological clamor: Guns reduce crime.
Of course, it’s politically incorrect to say that now. The post-Sept. 11 conventional wisdom bars discussing any formerly controversial subjectsit’s time to move on, now that there are bigger fish to fry.
Fair enough, but "moving on" doesn’t mean ignoring old debates, it means resolving themand putting to use all that the nation has learned since Sept. 11. Two important lessons of that awful day are: Laws rarely dissuade those determined to commit evil, and guns often do.
If there’s one place in the United States where gun control actually worksthat’s to say, it keeps guns out of everyone’s handsit’s airplanes. By and large, smuggling a firearm onto a jetliner is prohibitively difficult. That’s why the 19 hijackers who commandeered those four jets didn’t even bother with guns.
They didn’t need to. They could be reasonably sure that no one else on board would be armed, and that for their purposes, box-cutters and pocket knives would be sufficient to kill thousands. With the single exception of the heroic resistance they met on United flight 93 (where passengers discovered their true intent), they were right.
All of which goes to show that even when government can keep guns out of people’s hands, it still can’t stop criminals from doing wicked, murderous things. Outside of airports and airplanes, where there are no metal detectors or x-ray machines, it can’t even stop criminals from carrying gunsan ample black market will always meet their demand.
So what can deter them?
The nation has already answered that questionnote the virtually unanimous support for putting armed federal marshals on commercial aircraft. The reasoning is clear enough: Terrorists with box-cutters are no match for anyone with a powerful firearm and good aim. In the 30 years that it’s put armed, plainclothes guard on its flights, Israel’s El Al has had no hijackings. If terrorists know that they’re likely to be met with armed opposition, they’ll probably pass up hijacking in favor of some other sort of malfeasance.
The same, of course, can be said for garden-variety domestic thugs, like rapists and murderers. Few criminals will waste their time on a victim who’s likely to put them in a body bag. And while it’s impossible to put an armed federal marshal on every dark alley and in every home, allowing ordinary citizens to arm and defend themselves has the same deterrent effect. That’s why crime invariably falls whenever communities legalize concealed weapons.
Pilots, who obviously take a special interest in airline safety, have caught on to the value of self-defense. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, asked Congress last week to authorize properly trained and screened pilots to carry a gun in the cockpit. (Like the marshals, they would use bullets that are powerful enough to penetrate human tissue, but not aircraft walls.)
Congress, unfortunately, is a little less quick to change its ways. Its response was cool, and so the pilots have scaled back their ambition. Woerth now says he’ll ask only for stun guns. The Association of Flight Attendants has made the same request for its members.
Stun guns might offer some comfort, and they’re certainly an improvement over no protection at all. But they would probably be of little help against a posse of well-trained and determined killers. Guns are unique in their ability to thwart crime.
They are the great equalizer, making a five-foot woman every bit, if not more, powerful than her six-foot-five attacker. Terrorists and other criminals always have the advantagethe element of surprise. Nothing short of the overwhelming force that a firearm provides can put the intended victim on comparable footing.
Gun-rights supporters have long known this, but Sept. 11 has, it appears, made the reality more clear for most everyone else.
Even in the San Francisco Bay Areahome of Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the use of force against terroristsfirearm sales have gone up by an estimated 30 percent. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that local gun shops are flooded with first-time customers and regulars stocking up on ammunition. Throughout California, the number of background checks for gun purchases jumped 42 percent in the two weeks following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The rush to arm is only in part a response to the threat posed by terrorists. It’s also due to the widening recognition that the police cannot be expected to protect everybody at all times. On Sept. 11, police stations across the country were emptied by a mass exodus of officers send to secure airports, federal buildings, and other potential targets. Under normal circumstances, the chances of an officer arriving at a crime scene on time to foil the crime are slim. During moments of crisis, when cops are taken off the beat, they are nonexistent.
With the specter of further terrorist attacks, it’s no wonder that average, law-abiding Americans would want to do more to protect the safety that no government can guarantee.
"Homeland security" begins at homeand it requires the right to self defense.