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America Arms
Gun rights gain in the wake of Sept. 11.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001 12<!--emo&:0--><img src="" border="0" valign="absmiddle" alt=':0'><!--endemo-->1 a.m.

Liberal Delaware (Gore by 13.06%) awoke the other morning to the news that gun sales are up 32% since Sept. 11, range use is up 25%, and advanced gun classes are booked through February.
The Diamond State is not alone. The FBI reports that in the month after the attacks, requests for gun-related background checks through its National Check System rose 20%. Concealed-weapons applications tripled in Texas, and, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, filings for gun-purchase background checks increased 50% in the weeks following Sept. 11. Florida news articles report "a dramatic increase in gun and ammunition purchases, particularly among women, senior citizens and first-time gun owners."

In other words, the people who feel the most vulnerable are taking action to protect themselves.

The events of September set off a rush for protection, but in truth these were but the next steps in a long American march towards increased personal safety. In the mid-1980s nine states had "right to carry" laws. Now the number is 33. The attempt on Ronald Reagan's life and the wounding of James Brady certainly played a role in so many states permitting licensed individuals without criminal records or significant mental illness to carry concealed weapons.
In Michigan, 30,000 people immediately took advantage of the right-to-carry law when it went into effect this July 1. Michigan officials expect the total number of permits to rise to more than 125,000 from 50,000, according to the Chicago Tribune. According to Gallup and Reason Online, 39% of Americans--47% of men and 27% of women--have guns in their homes. In 1996, 76 million adults owned at least one gun and the number is rising.

Meanwhile the government is rethinking the liberal antigun consensus that began to take root in the 1970s. "It is settled [law] that there is no personal constitutional right, under the Second Amendment, to own or use a gun," stated a 1973 Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel publication. But this September Attorney General John Ashcroft said that "the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms," and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals so held in an October decision. Seems obvious, considering the text of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Television media continue to advocate stricter gun controls--the Media Research Center evaluated 635 TV news reports from July 1, 1997, to June 30, 1999, and found 357 stories supporting stricter controls, 260 neutral and only 36 opposing controls. But the rest of the country seems to prefer citizen safety to gun limitations.

What is driving these changes in law? The thought that there are terrorists among us who may be armed and dangerous is one factor, made very real by Sept. 11 and subsequent threat alerts. The antigun lobby's goal of eliminating the private ownership of guns--unilateral disarmament in the face of armed criminals--now seems an even more ill-conceived policy, likely to turn citizens into victims before it turns terrorists into law-abiding citizens.
Another factor was the rise in violent crime in American cities in the 1970s and '80s and the press coverage it received. When people saw that the existing structures of government were unable to protect citizens against violence, they thought it prudent to protect themselves. Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck estimates that Americans use guns 2.5 million times a year to protect themselves and their property. .

The use of guns for self-defense is largely deterrent; John Lott of the American Enterprise Institute observes that "in 98 percent of all cases, simply brandishing a gun is sufficient to stop a crime." Don't believe it? He ran a quick check last March and turned up 20 successful defensive gun use stories reported in local media in a single week.

Further, Mr. Lott and David Mustard's 1997 study, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns" details the positive impact concealed-carry laws have on crime rates: "If those states without right-to-carry concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, county- and state-level data indicate that approximately 1,500 murders would have been avoided yearly. Similarly we predict that rapes would have declined by over 4,000, robberies by over 11,000, and aggravated assaults by over 60,000."

Most Americans' attitude toward guns lies somewhere between the gun-rights and antigun extremes. A 1999 Gallup poll found that Americans favored waiting periods for gun purchases (the Brady bill) by 89% to 10%, but opposed banning the "possession of handguns, except by police and other authorized persons" by 62% to 36%.
No doubt those views have shifted along with other beliefs as a result of the terrorist attacks. Most important, though, may be a new appreciation of the Second Amendment's guarantee of the fundamental, individual right to protect yourself against violence through the possession of a weapon.

That is a good thing, because America will be safer, people will be safer, and the threat of violence against us will diminish.
Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column appears Wednesdays.

Copyright © 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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