By J. Peter Mulhern
The Million Mom March is coming to town. For the sake of brevity let's call it the M3. M3 represents the triumph of alliteration over arithmetic. Nobody believes that much more than one hundred thousand people will march in Washington this weekend. Not all the marchers will be mothers. But hey, what's an order of magnitude among friends.
Arithmetic isn't a strong suit for the marching moms. The organizers of M3 persist in publicizing the absurd factoid that 14 "kids" fall victim to gun violence every day. One can only approach this figure by including statistics from the entire population under the age of 20 and lumping together suicides, accidents and gang-related violence with all other shootings. If one corrects for these distortions it turns out that M3's PR is, once again, off by an order of magnitude.
M3 enthusiasts have tried to defend their sensational claim of 14 dead kids per diem by arguing that a death is a death and that teenagers are, after all, quite young even if they aren't strictly speaking children. This doesn't disguise the deliberately deceptive nature of the M3 PR. M3's boosters are trying to make people believe that homicidal maniacs commonly mow down innocent children. The statistics tell a different story. Most of the young people killed by bullets are old enough to have placed themselves in harm's way and old enough to have known better.
The 14 per diem statistic is grossly misleading for reasons that go beyond the age of the cadavers it counts. Most of the deaths that make up that statistic are irrelevant to any discussion of gun control. The statistics on gun accidents shouldn't alarm anyone. Guns are involved in a trivial percentage of serious accidents. Cars, bicycles, and matches are involved in many more deaths than guns.
We should refrain from making gun accidents a national priority until we've dealt with the long list of far greater dangers. If there's been a Million Mom March Against Matches I missed it. In the debate over gun control, suicides are also largely beside the point. The argument that gun controls can prevent suicide assumes that many suicides result from impulse combined with easy access to a loaded gun. This trivializes the agony of terminal depression. Desperate people will never lack for the means of self-destruction. Teen suicide may be a national problem, but addressing that problem by passing gun control legislation would be a cruel joke.
Gang violence doesn't contribute to the case for gun control either. Laws are irrelevant to determined outlaws. If we could keep firepower out of the hands of gang members we would have done it long ago. When you strip away all the irrelevancies, there is very little left of the claim that we face a crisis that gun control can help us resolve. In 1988, 27 per cent of American families owned a gun. By 1996 that figure had risen to 40 per cent. At the same time gun ownership was soaring, gun violence declined sharply.
The simple-minded proposition that more guns mean more death is at odds with recent history. That proposition is also at odds with common sense. Ever since Australopithecus first brandished a femur, our ancestors have armed themselves when they felt threatened, in the belief that doing so made them safer. There is no reason to suppose that belief outmoded. As Yale economist John Lott argued persuasively in his book More Guns Less Crime, a pistol-packing society is a safer society.
The M3 marchers are no slaves to common sense. They are coming to Washington to promote the view that disarmament is the key to safety. Their position is even sillier than this summary suggests. They won't, for the most part, have the courage to follow their view to its logical conclusion. If guns, particularly handguns, really make us unsafe we should ban them. But any proposal to do so would be political poison. For the most part, the M3 marchers will confine themselves to demanding trivial legislation that is significant only as a small step toward the ultimate goal of taking guns out of private hands.
M3, despite all the noise, is about nothing more than incremental movement toward an indefensible goal. Why would 100,000 people with children to care for come to Washington for such a ridiculous cause? They have two principal reasons. One is ideological. The other is political.
The movement for gun control is closely connected with one of the core beliefs of modern orthodoxy -- all things have a material cause. Much of what passes for education in this country is propaganda for this belief. For every problem, modern orthodoxy demands that there must be a material solution. Everything can be fixed by making the right changes in our physical circumstances. If the problem is sexually transmitted diseases, the solution is condoms. If the problem is violence, the solution is restricting gun ownership.
Many people have to blame violence on guns because they can't understand it any other way. We have been killing each other since Cain and Able because we all participate in original sin, but modern orthodoxy has no place for moral concepts like sin. Attending a ridiculous protest rally is a small price to pay for keeping your entire worldview intact.
The M3 marchers also have a crass political motive. The Democratic Party needs a significant majority of American women to stay competitive in national politics. George W. Bush is currently polling ahead of Albert Gore among women. If this persists Gore will soon have to find a real job. Democrats are hoping they can save Gore's failing candidacy by getting enough of the women who think guns are icky out to vote for Democrats. M3 is part of that strategy.
The principal M3 organizer is a loyal, if unofficial Democratic Party apparatchik. M3 is just as scripted and as remote from the grass roots as any other Gore campaign event. In the end, it will probably also be just as sterile. It will take more than a protest rally featuring the stale rhetoric of gun control to boost Gore's appeal among American women. He needs something much more dramatic. Maybe cross-dressing would help.
J. Peter Mulhern can be reached at email@example.com
Published in the May. 15, 2000 issue of The Washington Weekly
Copyright 2000 The Washington Weekly.
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