It’s no secret that mainstream press coverage of gun ownership in the United States tends to be in favor of gun control. Journalists focus on how many people are killed by guns, how many children get their hands on improperly stored firearms, and how many deranged individuals go on shooting sprees.
This anti-gun news bias is widespread among urban elites who have very little personal experience with guns and yet have no problem opining about the subject for influential newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post. Despite this bias, gun ownership has significant positive impacts on American society that often go unreported.
There is actually a sort of semi-official policy regarding this: “if it bleeds, it leads.” This means, in short, that the more death and destruction, the higher up on the news the story goes. Nothing moves units quite like tales of gun violence, so the media complies by wallpapering coverage of tragic events like mass shootings, despite the fact that such events are rare and comprise a small number of the total deaths in America.
What’s more, the media almost never reports on context when it comes to mass shootings, such as the well-documented connection between prescription antidepressants and shootings. Even when SSRIs are involved, there is a serious problem with mental healthcare in the United States, which has one of the lowest rates of involuntary commitment in the world. In other words, it is incredibly difficult to get someone who is clearly a danger to themselves and others locked away even for a short observation period.
Of course, other, more tangential causes like the breakdown of civil society and the destruction of the family are never even considered.
Before proceeding further, it is finally worth pointing out that despite any talk of “weapons of war on our streets” by politicians and the media, it is primarily the police who hold such “weapons of war.” The possession of heavy weapons by local, state and federal law enforcement is not an abstract or philosophical question: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms alone offers a number of examples of the deadly consequences of a heavily armed police force.
American Gun Ownership: A Way of Life
It’s also worth discussing American gun ownership as a way of life. No other country has anything even close to resembling the gun culture of the United States, in scope or in character. To put it simply: Americans love their guns. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about this, but it is worth mentioning and discussing, if only briefly.
The War on Drugs and the Prohibition Era both provide examples of the federal government trying to ban something in sharp demand from the rest of the population. And while other countries have enforced drug laws with great success, Americans simply do not have the appetite or the tolerance for that kind of a crackdown on civil rights or the draconian punishments they have implemented to back up their drug laws.
Put more directly: America is not Malaysia.
There is a reason for this other than the Second Amendment, though that is an important factor. In the 18th century, firearms were expensive and largely the province of the nobility and the gentry. Even if you could get a weapon – what were you going to do with it? Most of the land was owned by the nobility, and if you hunted on their land the penalty was death.
Compare this with the Colonies and the United States. While guns weren’t necessarily cheaper, they weren’t a luxury – they were a necessity. Settlers used them to put food on the table and also to fight off what were sometimes constant raids by a hostile native population.
This is how America became one of three countries (Mexico and Guatemala are the other two) to constitutionally enshrine the right to keep and bear arms, and perhaps the only one to really take that right seriously. Because of this, the gun is inseparable from American notions of freedom.
Why Guns Are Good: Criminals and the Armed Citizen
Perhaps the most important impact of gun ownership on American society is how it influences the behavior of criminals.
The fact is, criminals fear armed citizens more than they do the police. There’s many reasons for this, but here are the most prominent:
• Police are rarely onsite during a crime.
• Police are bound by policy and procedures, and are trained to only use their firearms if it’s absolutely necessary.
• Civilians are also less trained.
In a research study sponsored by the United States Department of Justice, James Wright and Peter Rossi interviewed over 1,800 incarcerated felons, asking how they felt about civilians and gun ownership. Thirty-three percent of these criminals admitted to being scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by a gun-owning victim. Sixty-nine percent of them knew at least one other criminal who had similar experiences. Nearly 80 percent of felons also claimed that they intentionally avoid victims and homes that they believe may be armed.
This shows that at least one in three criminals has been deterred because of an armed citizen, and that four out of five avoid victimizing people that have guns.
Why Guns Are Good: A Sense of Security
Most people realize that law enforcement cannot be everywhere, yet so many rely on nothing but a 911 call to protect both their home and those inside it. For those who live in remote areas, it can take an hour or more for first responders to arrive after an emergency call, but in most cases, even five minutes is too long. But when a homeowner is armed and trained, the sense of security increases.
Thanks to modern psychology, we know that people need this sense of security in order to grow and develop into healthy adults. Not surprisingly, privately owned guns provide that. Sixty-three percent of Americans now believe that having a gun in the house increases safety. While some may dismiss the importance of feeling secure and safe, or claim that another person’s desire for safety makes them feel unsafe, it is by far the most basic of human needs. And without it, people are left feeling frightened, angry, and defensive – often unable to reach, or even focus on, higher goals.