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The Daily Tar Heel

Gun Control Costs Innocent Lives

The "million" moms marching would have you believe this Oregon woman's Independence Day story is a rare event. They're right. Studies show that anywhere from 70 percent to 97 percent of the time a gun is used to prevent or terminate a criminal attack, no shots are fired.

So when an illegally armed teenager robbed Mike Nisi's family-run jewelry store, Mike's wife had only to aim her handgun to get the criminal to scream and flee.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the National Crime and Violence Survey and reports that scenes like these, which they call "defensive gun uses" (DGUs), happen more than 80,000 times a year in the United States. The gun-nuts claim 2 million DGUs a year based on survey data from scientific literature.

Either way, law-abiding Americans use a gun in self-defense hundreds of times a day.

School shootings are so rare you remember the names: Columbine, Edinboro. Yet politicians exploit such scenes to construct gun policy, always "for the children."

Slogans tease, "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have children who shoot their brother." CDC reports that 121 American children under 15 died in accidental shootings in 1998. But 2,791 were killed by cars, 1,346 in fires and 1,003 drowned. Bathtub locks could save more children than trigger locks.

To prevent drowning, wise parents teach children to swim. To prevent accidental shootings, what should a parent do?

Last year President Clinton lobbied for trigger locks after a six-year-old Michigan boy shot a classmate. This after his dad went back to jail and his mom trashed the apartment, getting them evicted. Sleeping on a couch in his uncle's crackhouse, he found the stolen gun. Mandatory trigger locks were the missing element in this child's life?

Trigger locks and other so-called "sensible" gun restrictions are a shell game, a distraction from real issues of violence politicos can't or won't solve. Gangs wage drive-by shootings over prohibition profits. A gay teenager commits suicide after months of verbal abuse in government schools. An abusive husband shoots his wife in the heat of the nightly beating. Blame the guns? Treating symptoms, new gun laws fail, an excuse for more laws. The result? Ever increasing violence and more than 20,000 American gun laws.

Here at Carolina, such laws seem popular. How easy to abandon a right we never exercise, since we have a private police force to keep our campus safe. "Name That Caliber" isn't as popular a Saturday night recreation for us as it is in parts of Durham. If we wanted to be armed, most of us could afford the additional costs of most "sensible" gun restrictions without resorting to the black market.

Yet many innocents, trapped in our inner-city war zones, depend on their Second Amendment right to self-defense for daily survival. They don't share our luxuries, and "sensible" gun laws disarm these poor and needy first. Their rights are not ours to surrender.

Several-hour waiting periods can save a life by allowing angry folk to calm, but "sensible" several-day waits leave victims vulnerable.

Rayna Ross, a 22-year-old Marine, awoke to find her ex in her Virginia apartment, this time armed with a bayonet. She'd survived a previous attack and gotten a restraining order and a gun. The gun worked, the predator died. What if he'd hunted on day six of the seven-day waiting period? Even a trained Marine like Ross needed a firearm to overcome the predator's size advantage.

Gun-control nuts note that in England, guns are rare and the murder rate lower. Gun-nuts note Switzerland, where guns are more common and the murder rate lower. Australia offers a controlled experiment. In 1999, the previously enacted "sensible" law requiring gun registration was used -- as always -- to confiscate the guns. Within a year, murders were up 3.2 percent, assaults up 8.6 percent and armed robberies up 44 percent. Australian gun control increased violent crime by removing a primary deterrent.

The Australian crime wave confirms the largest study done in the United States, Dr. John Lott's controversial (both the science and conclusions) "More Guns, Less Crime." He found that violent criminals prefer unarmed victims. If some law-abiding citizens arm themselves, criminals move where citizens are unarmed or substitute less violent crimes. Even pacifists (like me) benefit -- criminals don't know who is armed and who's not (oops). Care to risk your life on a guess again today?

In the 1960s, the Orlando, Fla. police trained 2,500 women to use guns to counter a rape epidemic. The next year, rape fell 88 percent and burglary by 25 percent.

Australians should feel lucky. Governments are more deadly than criminals when abusing monopoly of force. Libertarians Jefferson, Washington and Madison protected gun rights here, knowing what authoritarians like Stalin, Hitler and Mao could do to a disarmed people. More than 50 million victims of last century's genocides whisper warnings of their gun control experiences from mass graves.

Today in the United States, the idea of citizens taking up the family weapons against the greatest military power in the history of the world seems a little silly. The thought was just as silly to the first few rebels in the mountains of Afghanistan and the jungles of Vietnam. And it seemed pretty silly to most in 1776, when Colonial gun-nuts Washington and Jefferson risked hanging to ensure your freedom.

The libertarians who put together our Constitution understood the awesome power of deterrence. The Second Amendment is just the final check on a heavily checked-and-balanced government, and we should be thankful that this need remains so remote.

But we must always stay vigilant, for if the politicians can disable the Second Amendment, they can threaten the First.

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Russ Helms, a Ph.D. candidate in biostatistics from Chapel Hill, defends his home with two large dogs. E-mail: rhelms@bios.unc.edu.

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