Feminization of Gun Debate Drowns Out Sober Analysis

WHEN IT COMES to talking about guns, responsible women should adopt Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo pledge: No more tears.

No more mom-in-tennis-shoes proselytizing. No more irrational NRA-bashing. No more maudlin sermons. Alas, the sopping feminization of political debate continues to drown out sober analysis of gun-control laws. In the wake of the Los Angeles-area day care shooting, earlier this year, serious academic research is once again taking a back seat to sensational self-flagellation.

My favorite anti-gun manifesto was published last year in the Seattle Times following the Springfield, Ore. school shooting. The headline: “Where is our indignation at this senseless carnage?” The letter writer, political neophyte Heidi Behrens-Benedict, was quickly anointed the Democratic Party’s challenger to GOP Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn. Dunn pummeled Behrens-Benedict in last fall’s general election.

“We need gun control,” Behrens-Benedict moaned. “Our children are being murdered. We need righteous indignation, directed fury. . . . I urge you to write to your elected officials and require them, as a condition of your vote, to reject the NRA and adopt a national policy on gun control.” Behrens-Benedict also bewailed opposition to “modest” measures “such as requiring the sale of trigger locks with each gun sold.”

What Behrens-Benedict didn’t mention was that the defeat of just such a measure in Washington state in 1997 came at the hands of a whopping 71 percent of voters. Despite the overwhelming rejection of mandatory trigger locks by progressive voters in Washington state, Congress is once again considering this costly and ineffective proposal.

Behrens-Benedict paints Second Amendment defenders as right-wing gun nuts out of touch with women and estranged from reality. But the numbers speak for themselves: Between 1988 and 1996, gun ownership by women nationwide skyrocketed by over 70 percent. January 1996 data from the state Department of Licensing Firearms Unit show that 18.6 percent of all concealed-handgun permit holders (past and present) in Washington are women. That’s 118,728 pistol-packing moms, daughters and grandmas from Seattle to Spokane.

And you can bet your waterproof mascara that they are not all NRA-backed Republicans.

University of Chicago Professor John Lott notes in his book, More Guns, Less Crime : Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws that “almost one in four voters who identify themselves as liberals and almost one in three Democrats own a gun.” Among those who own concealed-weapons permits are liberal Hollywood celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd and Bill Cosby; left-leaning media tycoons such as Arthur O. Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times, and staunch Democratic feminists such as U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California.

Gun-control advocates preach that more restrictions on handgun ownership are the key to reducing violent crime. But Lott’s exhaustive and groundbreaking analysis of nationwide data demonstrates otherwise. After analyzing FBI crime records from every county in the U.S. over a 19-year period, Lott and a research partner found that the more people who obtained concealed-weapons permits under “shall-issue” laws, the more violent crime declined. Thirty-one states have now passed such laws allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons; Washington’s has been on the books since 1961.

The longer such laws are in place in a state, Lott concluded, the more effective they are. In the period studied, for every five years a shall-issue law was in place, murder rates dropped by at least 15 percent, robberies by 11 percent and rapes by 9 percent. The benefits of concealed-carry laws for women are especially striking. According to Lott’s research, one additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about three to four times more than one additional man carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for men.

Lott’s work has been met with the usual response: empty, shrieking hysteria. Media hounds immediately lambasted Lott’s statistical methods as “flawed” – without ever having read the study. Gun-control advocates refused to debate him in public, then smeared him with false accusations about his research affiliations.

Yet, far from the soap-opera stage of popular debate, Lott’s scholarly critics acknowledge that his research is a valuable contribution to the academic literature. Lott has published more than 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals. His book provides a brief primer on statistics and multiple regression analysis. Unlike gun-control ideologues, he responds extensively to opponents’ arguments and makes his data available to anyone who asks.

Unfortunately, the chasm between solid academic research and squishy political rhetoric is enormous. Americans have become numb to numbers. In our Oprah-fied culture, overwrought women such as Heidi Behrens-Benedict are deified while accomplished scholars such as John Lott are demonized. The question is no longer “Which policy will save the largest number of lives?” but “Who can shed the most tears?”

Therein lies the real tragedy: Instead of arming the nation’s youth with the intellectual tools they need to pursue the truth, we are teaching them to deal with crucial public policy problems by burying their heads at the bottom of a Kleenex tissue box.

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