Four Decades of Defending Self-Defense


reason has been on the gun beat since the very first issue of the magazine appeared 40 years ago. In "Violence in the U.S.—the Reversal of Cause and Effect," founding editor Lanny Friedlander described the political reaction to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy: "Gun laws, we find them screeching, from every radio received, gun laws, gun laws, gun laws! Make it illegal for anyone to own a gun and enforce that law at the point of a gun. Forget that a murderer does not stop for stop signs and would not obey a gun law either. Forget that it leaves the victim unarmed, but leaves the victimizer free to operate. Forget that it makes self-protection a crime, but leaves the criminal better off than he was before. Forget that an assassin can make a gun or steal a gun or even use another type of weapon. Forget all that."

Since then the defense of Americans' Second Amendment rights has been a staple of the magazine. In a May 1977 cover story, for example, the maverick liberal Don B. Kates Jr. made a more comprehensive case that gun control doesn't work. (In the same issue, the libertarian feminist Beverly Combs argued that "If You Liked Gun Control, You'll Love the Antiabortion Amendment.") In December 1985, the sociologist William R. Tonso listed the ways gun laws had been used to oppress black people in another cover story, "Gun Control: White Man's Law." In October 1993, The Orange County Register's Alan Bock looked at one particular abuse of gun laws—when the survivalist Randy Weaver was set up on weapons charges, was confronted by federal agents at his Idaho home, and saw his wife felled by a government sniper's bullet—in "Ambush at Ruby Ridge."

And in May 2001, the anthropologist Abigail Kohn told reason readers what she found when she explored America's subculture of shooting enthusiasts. "Contrary to my initial expectations of the 'gun nuts' who presumably constitute what critics disparagingly refer to as 'the cult of the gun in America,' " she wrote, "most members of 'the gun culture' I've talked with are typical citizens. They live normal American lives, insofar as any of us is 'normal.' They have complex and sophisticated ideas about what guns do, what guns are for, and why guns are an important part of American history, society, and culture." They offer, in short, a perfect counterpoint to the anti-gun know-it-alls whom Friedlander lampooned in our debut issue.