Loaded Topic

Thank you for David B. Kopel's excellent article "Gun Play" (July). I would like to add two points about the "gun-free school zones" fraud.

Although on the surface these laws make it a felony to possess a gun on school property, any such charges against a child would be handled under more-lenient juvenile justice rules. The kids know it, too. Thus the full weight of these laws falls on the grownups, not the kids. Has there been a problem with adults carrying guns to school?

The 1,000-foot rule is particularly dangerous to hunters. Many schools, especially in small towns, are within 1,000 feet of main travel routes. Simply driving to your hunting spot can be a felony. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 exempts firearms in locked containers, but how many hunters even know about this?

W. J. Meyers
Research Triangle Park, NC

A sensible gun policy almost leaps from the data supplied by David Kopel in "Gun Play": Gun accidents and abuse are associated with ignorant and irresponsible gun users; bans on guns make matters worse. So don't ban guns, but do require gun users to pass a basic gun safety and marksmanship test in order to receive a gun license.

Why not treat guns just like other valuable technology that may endanger innocent bystanders—like cars, planes, explosives, radioactive materials, and toxic chemicals? That is, require users of the technology to demonstrate competence and responsibility.

Mary M. Cleveland
New York, NY

If there is one topic guaranteed to separate your average European libertarian from your average American libertarian, it must be the latter's attitude toward guns. David Kopel's article on children and guns is a prime example of a cultural gap wider than the ocean between our shores.

Like cars, skateboards, and electric toasters, guns kill people. Unlike these other products, however, the very purpose of the gun is to kill—death is not, as for some unlucky consumers, an unfortunate side effect. We have a simple attitude toward such products in Europe: You only give them to the people who may have to use them, namely (some) police and soldiers.

The citizen's right to bear a high-caliber machine gun is not something that we cherish very highly. Rather, we cherish the right to be free of the threat of machine-gun-bearing citizens (and we don't think that carrying a bigger gun is the best guarantee of such rights).

The United States has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and a large proportion of the victims are related to the perpetrators. This would suggest that if there were fewer households containing guns, there would be fewer murders.

Frankly, encouraging children to become more familiar with guns as a means of reducing their usage is about as sensible as teaching them to use clean needles whenever they want to take heroin. Most parents would prefer to teach them about the dangers of heroin.

Europe is no gun-free utopia. Right now in Bosnia (or indeed in Northern Ireland), Europeans are slaughtering one another with more than just handguns. But most of us can (still) walk our cities' streets at night, free of the kind of fear endemic to many American cities as a result of your cultural preferences for widespread gun ownership.

Perhaps we prefer different types of freedom? Or perhaps American libertarians need to start recognizing that the price of your gun freedom is the loss of something even more valuable to your citizens?

Gerald O'Neill
Dublin, Ireland

The libertarian position on guns is the part of libertarian philosophy with which I have the most difficulty, and reading a carefully constructed essay that was not designed to appeal only to my emotions was a pleasure. But there was a flaw in the article, and it shows an interesting failure of perception. David Kopel is a strong advocate of teaching children proper firearm use. His grounds for teaching gun safety are that children will inevitably learn about firearms, just as they inevitably learn about sex. ("In cities where no child may shoot a BB gun with his parent, kids learn about firearms on the street and shoot each other with 9mm pistols.")

This premise may be true, but it is certainly arguable—and statistics showing that gun-safety courses reduce firearm accidents don't address the question of whether children not exposed to guns will necessarily obtain guns. Gun-control laws will not increase the number of children exposed to guns in their households or on the street.

I was raised in a house with no guns by parents who believed in gun control. I bought my first air pistol when I was 18, and I started shooting black-powder weapons a few years later. I never hurt anybody with these things, mostly by the consistent application of common sense. My brother had no interest in guns and as far as I know possesses none. I keep my weapons locked up in a household that includes a 12-year-old child, and she has shown little interest in them, although I have taken her shooting a few times.

In my experience, interest in guns precedes finding out about them. That interest is not a necessary consequence of growing up, but a product of a child's environment and education. A properly brought up child may or may not develop a constructive interest in shooting; a child who is foolish and has a gun is dangerous, safety training or no.

Charles Shapiro
Avondale Estates, GA

Mr. Kopel replies: W. J. Meyers's elaboration of flaws in the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 illustrates the problems that can occur when Congress rushes to enact national emergency legislation for problems that could be handled much more sensibly at the state and local level. Federalizing almost any problem tends to result in poor solutions, and the problems of guns and schools is no different.

Ms. Cleveland's proposal for requiring prospective gun owners to pass safety and marksmanship tests is intuitively plausible. Unfortunately, the actual history of how such tests have been administered in the jurisdictions where they have been adopted shows that the tests are quickly perverted by anti-rights bureaucrats and become substantial, unreasonable barriers to gun ownership. It should also be noted that there is no requirement that persons who own and drive cars, or who possess toxic waste, pass any government-mandated safety class, as long as the activity takes place entirely on private property.

Mr. O'Neill's description of the "European libertarian" attitude towards firearms certainly wasn't shared by Patrick Henry Pearse and the other Irish revolutionaries who used firearms to resist British colonial rule. The authors of the American Constitution deliberately chose to break from European traditions of gun control, because the Founders, having observed European history, thought that disarming the populace was quite often a first step towards enslavement and even genocide. "Gun control" has been a cornerstone of the fascist, communist, and other dictatorial regimes that have murdered so many Europeans in this century.

As for Mr. O'Neill's assertions that guns are the cause of America's high rate of street crime or domestic homicide, the criminological research suggests that guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans provide a substantial deterrent to criminals, whether those criminals are a gang of muggers or an abusive husband. For more, see Gary Kleck's excellent 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (Aldine de Gruyter).

Mr. Shapiro's observations about curiosity and human nature are not implausible. But it is questionable whether, as a practical matter, a country with 200 million guns should base its accident-prevention policies on the hope that children will never be exposed to firearms.

Valley Guys

I just read T. J. Rodgers's "High-Tech Hoax" (July). This is the best concise explanation of why statism and central planning always fail. If I were an authoritarian, I would assert that every adult American should read it.

Allen L. Tiffany
Lawrence, KS

Talk about a breath of fresh air! T. J. Rodgers's article was music to the soul. What a joy to know that some large and prosperous (also competitive) companies are refusing to accept government handouts and monopolies.

In an old Charlie Chan movie, the detective hero had just suffered from an action that was supposed to help him. He told the would-be helper about a big-hearted elephant that wanted to help a little hen hatch her chicks. The elephant sat on her eggs. Bill Clinton's plans to subsidize the high-technology industries remind me of that elephant.

William B. Williford
Houston, TX

I very much enjoyed the article by T. J. Rodgers about Bill Clinton and Silicon Valley. While I have spoken with Mr. Rodgers and admired him for some time, I find that some of the industry captains he mentions only partially support his ideas. Indeed, at least one of his friends has risen to his current lofty position due in large part to his active and highly visible support of Sematech, the entity that Mr. Rodgers seems to loathe. This same friend now cries foul about increased personal taxes. Intel Corp., which Mr. Rodgers also mentions, albeit somewhat obliquely, has led the charge in support of Sematech.

I agree with Mr. Rodgers that all of Silicon Valley doesn't stand with Mr. Clinton, but the rest of it should not be viewed as totally populated by admirable friends of freedom, however nice their quotes.

Bill Bahr
Bloomingdale, IL

Mr. Rodgers replies: Guilty as charged! Whenever I can get Silicon Valley's CEOs to support economic freedom, I accept their support with no strings. In return, I fail to point out that their position, "We have got to get this federal budget in balance-right after I get my Sematech subsidy," is inconsistent, at best. Silicon Valley is not a free-market utopia, but if you look at government-industry collusion in other sectors of our economy, we come off pretty well.

Correction & amplification: The column "Copping Out" in our August/September issue may have left the false impression that L. Brent Bozell III of the Media Research Center fabricated statistics when he stated, "Surveys have shown that one in three cops on television today is the villain. It is devastating that one out of every three policemen is perceived and promoted as an evil person." In fact, Mr. Bozell based his statement on a misreading of the book Watching America by Robert and Linda Lichter and Stanley Rothman. On page 223 of the book, the authors state that in the period 1975 to 1986, positive portrayals of police officers outnumbered negative portrayals three to one. This means that one in four cops was portrayed in a less-than-favorable light, though not necessarily as a villain. (The book cites the comic sheriffs on The Dukes of Hazzard as examples of negative portrayals.)