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Monday, August 16, 2004

Battle Arms - Opening Argument - Challenger

As I look down into my lap and eye the glistening 7.32 inch barrel of my Glock .357 Magnum, I can only ponder where to begin. I guess the first thing to say is that I am honored by the invitation to debate in this fine forum and I thank the Chairman for the opportunity. This is an extremely important issue for our society and I hope I can do it justice.

The primary purpose of handguns and assault weapons is to kill people. I find it alarming that such inventions have threaded their way into our society in such a thorough and deadly manner. As the deaths continue, I feel it is important to work towards laws which restrict and ban the possession these weapons. We are a society that is literally drowning in guns. Towards these ends, I would first like to do a brief history of handguns. I would then like to present to you how we as citizens of this fine republic have been programmed to view handguns in a positive way. I then hope to show you how far gone we are with this love affair of handguns. Finally, I hope to examine the real costs of such a love affair in terms of lost lives as well as economic damage.

The primary purpose of a handgun is to kill other people. Here’s the earliest gun I could find. It was termed a hand gonne and its primary purpose was to shoot a charging knight. You can go through the evolution of handguns from the hand gonne to percussion cap and it is all about killing people. As about.com notes, the percussion cap had “a devastating effect in the U.S. Civil War”. With the invention of the revolver, a new and improved killing machine was developed. Sam Colt’s invention allowed firing without reloading and as the Colt website proclaims:

"Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
This is indeed the case if one desires the streets of our country to be a battlefield. In fact, I think we did an excellent job of fulfilling Sam Colt’s vision. It should be duly noted that Colt struggled until he found his niche market, the U.S. Ordnance Department.

Who doesn’t like a good gunfight? We glorified the old west in books, magazines and movies. Those were real individualists and there is nothing better than a loner with a handgun. The handgun is the ultimate symbol of both personal security and autonomy. In an insecure and fearful country, who could ask for more than a handgun? Hollywood knew it had a winner on its hands with handguns. With westerns losing their appeal, Hollywood turned its attention to more modern handgun themed movies. No movie in the history of Hollywood did more for the handgun than the movie Dirty Harry. This led to vigilante handgun films like Death Wish. Are you afraid and fearful? Buy a gun and do a little vigilante justice. The handgun made its way into the American psyche big time in the early 1970’s and there was no turning back. As we nestled up to guns, gun crime went up significantly. From the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s, gun crimes went from 329,232 in 1984 to 581,697 in 1993.

What was the reality in the old west? Gun fighting wasn't really all that common:

Gun fighting peaked in the 1870s: Six fights in TX and KS in 1870, 22 in 1871,
13 in 1872, 27 in 1873, 14 in 1874, 13 in 1875, 22 in 1876, 21 in 1877, 36 in
1878, 14 in 1879. In the 1880s: 25 in 1880, 27 in 1881, 15 in 1882, 9 in 1883,
17 in 1884, 7 each in 1885-6, 20 in 1887, 10 in 1888, and nine in 1889. 1895-96
were bad years, 19 fights in each, but then it began to taper off.

These numbers pale when compared with the 581,697 gun crimes we had in 1993. For all you NRA folks out there, put your gun away before visiting this link. Those aren’t real shots being fired. There wasn’t a whole lot of face-to-face gun shooting. This would be for good reasons. It doesn’t take a whole lot of brains to figure out what the odds were in a face-to-face shooting. Instead, handguns played a major role in bushwhackings, ambushes and assorted shootings where the victim had no chance of defense. This properly mirrors what we experience today. If only they had cars in the old west? I guess we are all victims of the in-house drive-by. There is real irony in the fact that Clint Eastwood, a man who made his fortune making westerns and modern day handgun movies would come full circle and act and direct in a movie like the Unforgiven. I think it properly puts into perspective what killing people is all about.

When something smells rotten, I always follow the money trail. Lo and behold, the handgun business is big business. In 1995, there were over 233 million firearms in the United States. The pile of handguns keeps getting higher as cheap handguns are widely available today. In 2002, Californians alone purchased 169,469 handguns. Dumping cheap handguns on America is big business. Hundreds of thousands of cheap handguns are produced and sold each year and the profits are huge. Their right to dump these handguns on America is upheld by a well-funded lobby that spent 3.7 million dollars in the 2000 election cycle to back candidates who support their cause. Their opponents spent $394,000 for the same election period. It is no small wonder that gun control has gone off the radar while conceal and carry permits are on the rise.

Guns are really cool. In my humble opinion, they rate right up there with M-80's. I experienced no small amount of joy blowing up model cars and assorted stuff as a kid. Who can resist throwing an M-80 into a sewer and see it make a huge sewage splash and hear it reverberate throughout the neighborhood? Guns, like M-80’s make a loud noise and you can shoot stuff up. Unfortunately, when you peel away the boyish destruction, you are left with a path of devastation. In 2001, there were 29,573 firearm related deaths with 11,348 of those deaths the result of homicide. Homicide is the number one cause of death for young black males age 15 to 24. In 1996, roughly 96,000 people received gunshot wounds with roughly a third of them being fatal. There were 357,822 gun crimes in 2002. This is clearly an epidemic. The social, economic and human costs are massive.

There is no small list of specific incidents involving guns and assault weapons that have taken a grave toll on our citizenry. Attacks in schools, trains, or any other place people work or gather are well documented.

Statistics from the ATF show that half of all guns used in crimes are legally purchased. One can only wonder how this industry continues to thrive given their path of mayhem and destruction. Careful examination of the powerful gun lobby reveals the reality. The millions of dollars the gun lobby uses to pay off our representatives and legislators make them literally untouchable. The government is falling over itself to provide immunity to gun manufacturers. If only the cigarette industry had greased more palms? The gun lobby is brutal. They oppose all measures to use technology to make guns safer. They oppose technology to “fingerprint” weapons. They oppose efforts to ban armor piercing ammunition. One can only wonder what their justification$ are.

Given the massive amount of violence and death, we have made progress. James Brady, White House press secretary for Ronald Reagan was severely injured and crippled in an assassination attempt on then President Ronald Reagan. His wife Sarah mounted a tremendous campaign to bring gun control to the forefront of political debate. In a stunning victory, the "Brady Bill" was enacted in 1994. The bill required outlandish requirements like gun licensing and background checks. It originally provided for a five-day background check but that has since become obsolete thanks to a computerized FBI system. As you view my statistics above, please note the precipitous drop in gun crime that coincides with enactment of this bill. We need to continue this effort and work towards a general ban of weapons that have no primary use other than to kill people. That said, I have no problem issuing conceal and carry permits to people who actually have a real need to carry a weapon. This would include situations where people must carry large amounts of money in high crime areas. The process to obtain such permits must be vigorous and thorough.

I fully understand the cries to carry weapons. My question is, where do we draw the line? If someone tells me about his need to own assault weapons, I am certain that there will be another person who claims his need to carry hand grenades. From this, we have someone who desires to possess a rocket propelled grenade launcher. I personally draw the line at the utility of the weapon. Weapons with the primary purpose of killing people should be banned. They have no place in civil society. That said there is much cognitive dissonance in regards to this point of view. When such matters arise, I generally reach into my personal experiences to properly evaluate the situation. In my case, it doesn’t leave any doubt in my mind.

- My grandfather was shot in the head and killed with a handgun that was concealed when the murderers entered his store.
- My brother was shot in the chest by a group of 16-year-old kids who had a handgun. His mistake was to walk down the street at night. The young robbers shot him after they determined that he had no money on his person. They took his jacket off him before they shot him. The bullet missed his heart by less than an inch and he walks around with a piece of lead in his chest today.
- I knew a guy who made the mistake of getting out of his car in a road rage incident. He was shot dead on the spot with a handgun.
- I knew a guy who was having mental problems and he got his hands on $20 .22 caliber pistol and shot himself in the heart.

All of the people who pulled the triggers in the above scenarios used less physical effort than would be required to open a jar of pickles.

I don’t want to live in a war zone. I don’t want my kids to live in a war zone. I’ll be happy to carry a gun when the government deems it necessary that I fight in a war. Short of that, I think civil society deserves better than what the laws are offering today. For people who desire to carry guns in public, I recommend they go to Iraq where the gun laws are quite liberal.

Best regards,
Ralph Stefan

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