by Jay Johansen | Sep 5, 1996
The above is a quote from a gun control advocate. (Quoted from memory, but I believe I have fairly stated the argument.)
Let's ignore for the moment the question of whether it is even possible to take guns away from the criminals at the same time we disarm the law-abiding. Let's grant that assumption for the sake of argument.
It is, I don't doubt, true that gangsters or even street punks will be more skillful in the use of guns than a little old lady who decides to arm herself for self-defense. In a gun battle between a street punk and a little old lady, the safe bet is that the street punk will win.
But ... What are the odds on a fight between a street punk armed with a kitchen knife or a baseball bat against a little old lady with a similar weapon (or more likely, no weapon at all)? Surely the little old lady's odds are abysmal. With a gun, she might manage to get off a shot first. In hand-to-hand combat, her chances of winning are, to say the least, remote.
They used to call the Colt revolver "the equalizer". That's very true. If you're battling with clubs or knives or your bare fists, the person who's bigger and stronger and who fights more often has a huge advantage. But in a gun fight ... the person who practices with a gun more has an advantage, but nowhere near as much of an advantage. (Of course I use the "little old lady" as an extreme example. Even the average healthy young man would have little chance in hand-to-hand combat against an experienced street fighter.)
But, the gun control advocates say, if neither person has a gun, the punk might beat up the little old lady and take her purse, but he won't have to kill her to get what he wants. Once she pulls a gun, he has no choice but to either run away or kill her. By pulling a gun, she has suddenly upped the stakes, and perhaps insured her own death or serious injury.
Well, maybe so. We might reply that there are plenty of punks out there who mug people, not because they "need" the money, but simply because they think it's fun to kill people and watch them die.
But even forgetting that, let's look at the flip side. If neither the little old lady nor the street punk has a gun, okay, maybe the chance that she will be crippled or killed is less, she might get away with a simple concussion. But the chance that she will hurt the street punk one iota is negligible. He may kill her or he may "only" beat her senseless; if she makes a truly heroic effort, she may leave him with a few bruises or scratches. Most likely he will laugh at her pitiful efforts to defend heself and joke about it with his buddies afterward.
But if she has a gun ... suddenly the equation changes. Sure, she's still more likely to lose. But she might actually kill him. He suddenly has something to lose.
Suppose law-abiding people routinely carried guns for self-defense. Let's concede that the criminals are more skilled in the use of weapons, maybe have the advantage of surprise on top of it. Suppose that in a typical mugging or hold-up against an armed victim, the criminal still has a 3-to-1 chance of winning. (That's just picking a number out of the air, but it sounds plausible. I'd be happy to hear if someone has actual statistics.)
Even at those odds, the average street punk would kill three innocent people -- and then be killed himself. Bad as crime is, law-abiding people outnumber violent criminals by a lot more than 3 to 1. If every law-abiding person carried a gun, and was willing and able to use it in self-defense, the violent criminals would literally be wiped out in short order.
More important, if every potential criminal knew that if he took up a life of violent crime, the odds were that he would be dead within a couple of months, how many would even start? Some, no doubt, would figure that they were clever or tough enough to beat the odds. A few would be clever or tough enough to survive. Most would end up dead. And the crime wave would stop.
© 1996 by Jay Johansen
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