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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, June 04, 2006

No Carry for Me

Last week, a conservative acquaintance emailed that he’d recently realized that “few, if any, opponents to concealed carry had ever heard a presentation which addresses the responsibilities and consequences of carrying a concealed weapon.

“Seemed to me,” he wrote, “that were someone who opposes concealed-carry to hear such a presentation, it might be an ‘AHA!!’ moment.”

I am, in fact, an opponent of concealed-carry legislation. But I doubt sitting through a presentation like that would change my mind. My opposition has little to do with not knowing all the responsibilities and consequences of carrying; it has everything to do with the kind of place I want to live in.

I’ve always appreciated that Wisconsin’s motto is “Forward”; it means my adopted state ought to spend its time thinking about how to progress as a society. Regression towards the Old West runs, I believe, counter to the motto.

More importantly, I don’t want to live in a society ruled by fear.

At a town hall meeting last month with my state senator and representative, an advocate for concealed weapons wanted to know why the two had opposed concealed-carry bills in the legislature, and had voted to uphold Governor Doyle’s vetoes.

After complaining that Wisconsin was one of a dwindling handful of states yet to allow concealed carry, and claiming that crime rates had fallen in other states after the measure’s passage, the gentleman finally got to the heart of why he felt he needed a gun.

“These people,” he said—and everyone in the room full of white South Side faces knew exactly whom he was referring to—“these people will get so bad they’ll drive everyone out of town!” Here was a man, a Vietnam veteran, according to his hat, letting fear and prejudice drive his desire for a concealed weapon.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who favors concealed-carry has the same kind of underlying issues he does; but a common argument among advocates is, “We need to protect ourselves.”

I can’t tell anyone not to be afraid—it just doesn’t work that way—especially given last summer and the kind of summer we seem headed toward this year. But I can say that it’s unlikely our law-abiding, class-taking, responsible-seeming gun-toters will ever need to defend themselves against a violent crime. There’s something soothing, maybe, in knowing you’re packing, but you are probably not going to be a victim of a violent crime perpetrated by a stranger—“these people,” as some might say.

The FBI’s crime statistics repeatedly tell us that, more often than not, violent crime is not random, and victims usually know perpetrators. Even the violent Memorial Day weekend just passed bears this out: Most victims knew the person who pulled the trigger.

As to the claim that carrying reduces crime, it is suspicious at best. (The author of a book with a similar name is a demonstrated fraud.) Yes, violent crime rates fell during the 1990s in states that liberalized their carry laws. But to believe the changed laws cause the drop in crime is to fall for the oldest social science fallacy. Just because two things happen sequentially does not mean that the first caused the second.

Because guess what happened to violent crime rates in Wisconsin during that same time period, with the same restrictions in place that the NRA and my email correspondent now want changed? If you guessed that they fell, you win.

In fact, in 2000, only four states had less violent crime reported to the police than we did, with our rate being half that of the US as a whole. Last summer’s murder rate notwithstanding, Wisconsin continues to have one of the lowest rates of violent crime, all without concealed carry.

Sure, maybe we could drop a few more points in the ratings—though there is not that far to fall—if we thought criminals would be afraid every potential victim of theirs was carrying.

But in the same way that I don’t want to let fear drive me to carry, I think there are better deterrents for criminals than fear. The same things that probably lowered crime rates in the nineties—expanded economic opportunity and money for more police on the streets—will work just as well now.

And I don’t need a presentation to tell me that.

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