Voice of the People,
The Gainesville Sun
When Is A People Killer   
Not Deadly?
 Steven A. Reid, M. D.

   The editorial by Tom Diaz published in Saturday's Gainesville Sun asks "When is a people killer not deadly?" Shortly, I will answer this question. Before I do, some background information is necessary.

   Handgun Control Incorporated, and other similar groups provide materials that are transparent to those who take the time to study the issues, but are deceptive to the casual observer. One such TV ad shows a toddler finding and playing with a revolver and proclaims "a child is killed every 10 minutes by a gun". These preventable tragedies unfortunately do occur occasionally, due to the negligence of some gun owners. However, this ad is propaganda. Accidental shooting accounts for a miniscule fraction of childhood deaths. In 1988, for example, a grand total of 5 children under five years old died in handgun accidents in the entire United States. 9 died while driving (yes, driving!) a motor vehicle. 21 died due to electrocution. 59 died from ingestion of poison. 117 died due to falls. 250 died from suffocation. 381 died in swimming pool drownings, another 375 drowned in bathtubs. 432 died in residential fires caused by adults who fell asleep while smoking. 459 died due to being hit by cars. 720 died from being in cars involved in accidents.

   When you pro-rate the risk for those homes which have the risk factor in question, we find that although swimming pools kill 76 times as many small children as do handguns, it turns out that since there are far more handguns than residential swimming pools, the actual risk ratio is 3122:1. The swimming pool in the back yard is three thousand times more likely to kill a small child than is the handgun on the closet shelf. [Sources for statistics: Accident Facts, 1989 Edition, National Safety Council. Vital Statistics of The United States Centers for Disease Control, "Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report". National Swimming Pool Institute.]

   Like the TV ad, the Diaz editorial is also purposefully misleading. He calls assault weapons "deadly toys of a tiny minority of thugs and wackos" in a blatant attempt to demonize legitimate firearms owners. He suggests that these semiautomatic rifles are "designed to 'spray-fire' bullets over a wide killing zone" "hosing down" victims. He is mistaken. These rifles fire one bullet for each pull of the trigger, just as do all semiautomatic firearms. They are decidedly not machine guns (which have been banned from general sale to the public since 1934). They are incapable of "spraying" or "hosing down" anything. Mr. Diaz is trying to convince the public that these weapons are essentially the same as fully automatic military small arms, when in fact, the only similarities are in their quality of workmanship and outward appearances. One wonders if he drives a Volkswagen bug with a phony Rolls-Royce grill and hood ornament.

  The purpose of the TV ad and the Diaz editorial is the same. It is to influence public opinion to favor the disarmament of American citizens.

Just what is an "assault weapon"?  

   Certain design features legally define an "assault weapon". Some of these, like pistol grips, grip extensions, and compensators are designed to make them more accurate, and hence, safer. Others, such as a bayonet lug merely add weight to the firearm. These weapons share a family resemblance with their fully automatic military-issue cousins. They fire the same caliber of ammunition.

   This ammunition, interestingly, was specifically designed not to kill, but more likely wound the enemy soldier. Military tacticians have determined that in ground fighting it is more effective to incapacitate enemy infantrymen than to kill them. More enemy personnel are tied up giving first aid and evacuating their wounded. The cries of the incapacitated dismay and dishearten their comrades and are a very powerful psychological weapon. On the other hand, the larger cartridges used in WWI and WWII were designed to kill quickly and efficiently. These are the calibers used nowadays by deer hunters in their more politically correct hunting rifles with hardwood stocks. Why is Tom Diaz is arguing to ban the less deadly weapons merely because they have a military "look"? (Freud, in his A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis stated, "A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.")

   In Switzerland, every home is required to maintain its own fully automatic military assault weapon. Crime in Switzerland is negligible compared to the United States. Ever wonder why Hitler chose to project his forces across the English Channel to attack economically depressed Britain while leaving nearby, wealthy Switzerland alone? Hint: the Swiss would have "spray-fired" and "hosed down" Hitler's finest infantry and still have time to make hot chocolate before breakfast. Personal military weapons in the hands of the people are an established national security asset.

   At the level of the individual, merely possessing a firearm provides a measure of protection to the owner's life, property, and freedom. Crime statistics show that firearms are, without a doubt, the most effective self-defense tools. Your chances of surviving, without injury, an attack by a criminal are best when your self-defense strategy includes arming yourself with a gun. Noted criminologist Gary Kleck has shown through his objective, unbiased research that firearms are used to prevent crimes about 2 million times per year in this country. In about 98% of cases, these guns are not even fired. Showing the bad-guy you are armed and refuse to be a victim usually thwarts the attack.

   The data irrefutably show crime is worse where citizens are prohibited from possessing firearms. Criminals prefer to operate in areas where they are given a government guarantee that their victims will be unarmed.

" Tell the American people never to lose their guns. As long as they keep their guns in their hands, what happened here will never happen there. " 
-- A female student from Beijing, Red China,
describing her parents last words to her. - 
   Governments are not always benign. Thomas Jefferson said, "The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

   In this century alone, approximately one hundred million people have been killed by their own governments. In each case, the genocide followed closely on the heels of extremist legislation that disarmed the citizenry. We have seen this in Russia, China, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Germany and elsewhere. Anyone who believes such an outrage "can never happen here" is either incredibly naïve, or has never studied history. The shameful fact is, it has already happened here -- to thousands of Native Americans.

   Now to answer Mr. Diaz's question, "When is a people killer not deadly"? It's not deadly when a responsible, law-abiding adult who is trained in its operation possesses it. In such circumstances it is an extremely effective deterrent to violence. When is it most deadly? As history has repeatedly shown, when it is taken from the hands of the citizenry, leaving them at the mercy of criminals and totalitarian governments.

Steven A. Reid, M.D.
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Revised  June 7, 1998