VITAL SIGNSrnGUNSrnLadies Against thernConstitutionrnby Philip JenkinsrnOn balance, would von say yon arcrnfor or against gun violence? Howrnabout motherhood? Pro or con? Howrnabout keeping firearms avva’ from children?rnI know that these are all contentiousrndebates nowadays, and that mostrnof us have to think awfully hard beforerndeciding such questions. Somehow,rnthough, I suspect that a decent majorityrnof us have nagging doubts about the desirabilityrnof preteen firefights, at least onrnschool premises.rnNow, you may think that diese imaginaryrnsurvey c[ueshons are ludicrous, andrnanyone framing a debate in such a wayrnwas simply joking. If you think so, thenrnyou clearly were not watching the mediarncoverage of the so-called “Million MomrnMarch” which kept the chattering classesrnbusy during a slow news week this pastrnMay. The Marching Moms claimed justrnto be seeking “responsible” and “sensible”rngun laws, which meant registrationrnof all guns and licensing of all owners,rn”just like cars and drivers,” as well asrnbuilt-in gun locks and “childproofing”rnweapons. These measmes were intendedrnto stop the gun “epidemic,” which reputedlyrnclaims the lives of 12 children arnday in the United States. Forsaking thernslightest nod toward objectivity, prettyrnmuch the entire mass media portrayedrnthe march’s issues in the terms chosen byrnthe group’s organizers, who appeared repeatedlyrnin sycophanhc television inter-rniews, unchallenged by speakers fromrnany rival perspecti’e. Since the issue wasrnsimply one of keeping guns away fromrnkids, there obviously was nothing valid tornbe said on the other side, i’vpical of pressrncoverage was the New York Ti»zes’ headline,rn”Mothers March to Assail Gun Violence.”rn”Mothers sound their call,”rnboasted the Boston Globe.rnAging boy wonder Bill Clinton addedrna superb hvist to the campaign b greetingrnmothers from a Jewish communityrncenter in Los Angeles, where three childrenrnwere shot last year by a racist spreernkiller. It was brilliant television with arnconcise message: If }ou don’t supportrn”conimonsense” gun policies, you’re notrnonly in favor of “kids shooting kids,” butrnyou also favor white supremacists andrnneo-Nazis. Who else but the lunaticrnright would question the collective wisdomrnof the thiuidering maternal herd?rnClinton asserted that “if a couple hundredrnthousand people show up here andrnseveral hundred thousand at these sitesrnaround the country it ought to send a signalrnthat we want America to be a saferncountry and common sense gun legislahonrnis part of the strateg.” In fact, it wasrnnothing like “a couple of hundred thousand,”rnbut it was amusing to see how thernpapers consistently inflated the numberrnof marchers. If only the late, lamentedrnCarl Sagan were here, we woidd presumablyrnhave got the figuie into the billionsrnand billions.rnBy the way, did anybody notice howrneasily the gun-control debate has, just inrnthe past few months, segued from demonizingrnhandguns to “guns” in general?rnThere are tens of millions of Americansrnowning rifles and shotguns who assumedrnthat the whole issue was about pistols andrnso-called “Saturday Night Specials,” andrndius had nothing to do w ith them. Guessrnagain.rnWell, diere are a great many problemsrnwith the policies suggested by the MarchingrnMoms, not least in the basic issuernwhich ostensibly motivates them. Forrnone thing, there is no epidemic of kidsrnkilling kids, and the oft-quoted figure ofrn5,000 children killed by guns each yearrn(12 a day, remember) is baloney. Inrn1998, the number of vouths youngerrnthan 18 murdered bv anv method wasrnfewer than 2,000, according to federalrnstatishcs, and an awful lot of those wererninfants or toddlers killed b parents andrnfamily members who ‘irtually never usedrnguns. We can onlv get a figure vaguelyrnapproaching 5,000 by including allrnhomicides of “children” up to age 21,rnkilled by whatever means. And the homicidernrate for young people has plummetedrnin recent years.rnBut assume, for the sake of argument,rnthat the threat to children is far greaterrnthan any evidence would suggest, andrnthat we are dealing with a “gun-violencerncrisis.” In virhially none of the reportingrnof the Momists was it acknowledged thatrnAmericans do not own guns due to theirrnbrutal stupidity or their callous neglect ofrnchildren’s interests, but because they believernthey have a fundamental right torngun ownership, and that this right existsrnfor exceedingly good rea.sons—above all,rnself-defense. In the real world, there is arnwide spectrum of opinions about gunsrnand gun ownership, so that the correctnessrnof the anti-gun position is far fromrnobvious.rnFrom a social-science perspective, arnsignificant body of evidence suggests thatrnguns often deter crime, and that laws permittingrnprivate citizens to carry weaponsrnfor personal protection have a strong deterrentrneffect on violent crime. In fairness,rnany listing of firearms deaths mustrninclude numbers for those whose livesrnwere saved by guns. Although this is thernwell-argued position of an impressiverngroup of scholars, they do not claim infallibility,rnand future studies may challengernthese findings. Nevertheless, what wernknow now tends to confirm the superblyrnargued equation of “more guns, lessrncrime” proposed by John Lott, and thosernwho challenge this perspective are on therndefensive. One corollary of this conclusionrnis that gun locks and “smart” guns,rnwhich can be fired onlv bv the owner,rnwoidd detract from the defensive funchonrnof firearms. Unless and unfil robbersrnand rapists can be induced to respond tornthe polite request, “Hold on a minute,rnI’m trying to enter my six-digit code,”rnsmart guns are an extraordinarily stupidrnidea which will cause a great deal of innocentrnblood to be shed.rnIn legal and constitutional matters,rntoo, there is ample room for debate, butrnfrom where we stand now, the pro-gunrnarguments have a strong advantage. Thisrnis particularly true of the tired argumentsrnabout whether the Framers intended thernSecond Amendment to recognize an individualrnor a collective right to bear arms.rnFor the anti-gunners, the wording impliesrngun ownership only in the contextrnof “a well regulated Militia” such as thernNational Guard; for their opponents, thernright is as individual as the right of freernspeech or religion. For anyone familiarrn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn