Last month, columnist David Frum penned a piece for The Atlantic that revealed he knows as much about firearms as Michael Moore does about dieting. In his article, “Responsible Gun Ownership Is a Lie,” he argues that Americans are better off with strict gun control designed to make it more difficult for people to own firearms.
Frum makes most of the usual anti-Second Amendment arguments in his piece, deceptively claiming that lax gun control laws make people less safe. But, as with most of his anti-gun comrades, Frum fails to make a compelling case.
One can understand why Frum is concerned. Indeed, Americans are buying guns at a rate that would be upsetting to anyone who doesn’t want people to own firearms. A recent survey revealed there were almost 9.8 million background checks for gun sales by June of 2021. It also found that 33.2 percent were purchased by first-time gun owners.
Frum seems to believe that the way to decrease gun violence is “by convincing ordinary, ‘responsible’ handgun owners that their weapons make them, their families, and those around them less safe.”
While noting that mass shootings tend to get the most attention when it comes to violence, Frum notes that “most of the casualties are inflicted one by one by one.” He continued:
Americans use their guns to open fire on one another at backyard barbecues, to stalk and intimidate ex-spouses and lovers, to rob and assault, and to kill themselves. Half of the almost 48,000 suicides committed in 2019 were carried out by gun. All of this slaughter is enabled by the most permissive gun laws in the developed world.
The author then pointed to the pending Supreme Court case that could have significant ramifications for gun owners in America. It seems that New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett is a source of worry for Frum because it “could expand gun rights even further.” He further insisted:
If the NRA prevails, the nearly 400 million guns in the United States will show up in even more places than they do now.
The author then noted that the main reason why people are buying guns is to defend themselves and their families. He insisted that “In virtually every way that can be measured, owning a firearm makes the owner, the owner’s family, and the people around them less safe.”
Frum supported his arguments by pointing out the reality that weapons can accidentally cause harm or even death to those who own them. He wrote:
The weapons Americans buy to protect their loved ones are the weapons that end up being accidentally discharged into a loved one’s leg or chest or head. The weapons Americans buy to protect their young children are years later used for self-harm by their troubled teenagers. Or they are stolen from their car by criminals and used in robberies and murders. Or they are grabbed in rage and pointed at an ex-partner.
The author also noted that “About 500 Americans a year die from unintended shootings.”
Then, he put forth the suicide argument, explaining that guns are most commonly used to commit suicide. “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults,” Frum wrote. He continued, noting that if someone survives a suicide attempt, they are more likely to continue living a full life. “A gun in the house massively raises the likelihood that a suicide attempt will end in death,” he argued.
Frum then brought up an argument that most gun control proponents have had trouble countering: The fact that multiple studies have revealed that guns are more often used to prevent crimes than to commit them. He acknowledges that “[e]stimates of defensive gun use vary wildly, from as few as 60,000 incidents a year to as many as 2.5 million.”
Frum, like his contemporaries, failed miserably in his attempt to counter this data. He wrote:
The higher estimates are distorted by a crucial error: They rely heavily on self-reporting by gun owners themselves, with a huge risk of self-flattering bias. If an argument spirals until one person produces a gun and menaces the other into shutting up, the gun owner might regard that use as “defensive.” A third party, however, might perceive a situation that only spiraled in the first place because the gun owner felt empowered to escalate it. Whose perception should prevail?
I will explain why this is a silly argument later in this piece.
The author continued, pointing out that “Virtually all developed countries strictly regulate firearms, especially handguns,” and they still have a lower level of violence than the United States. This supposedly means that defensive uses of guns are not a factor because the U.S. still has a higher rate of violence than other countries. “Guns everywhere engender violence everywhere,” he insisted.
So, let’s start with Frum’s arguments against data showing defensive gun uses occur more frequently than instances in which firearms are used offensively. His argument that the self-reporting methodology used in these studies – several of which were conducted by the federal government – is flawed because of “self-flattering bias” is itself flawed because he cannot provide any evidence demonstrating that this occurred when respondents participated in the studies.
Is it possible that some of these individuals may have misrepresented their encounters? Sure, but the overwhelming number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) that were reported still demonstrate that guns are used far more frequently to defend life and property than to take it. Indeed, a paper written by David Kopel, Paul Gallant, and Joanne Eisen found:
[F]irearms are used over half a million times a year against home invasion burglars; usually the burglar flees as soon as he finds out that the victim is armed, and no shot is ever fired.
This doesn’t exactly fit the “pulling a gun during a quarrel” argument that Frum put forth, does it?
Moreover, strict gun laws haven’t exactly worked in every developed nation when it comes to preventing gun violence. In Mexico, it takes six months of background checks to be eligible to purchase a firearm. Since the country has only one gun store, one must be able to travel to that location to buy a weapon.
While Mexico’s gun homicide rate is lower than the United States, its overall violent crime rate is far higher and is ranked as the second-highest in the world when it comes to violence. With a population that is unable to defend itself because of its government’s strict gun policies, this can’t be surprising, can it? In Mexico, criminals involved with the drug trade carry out about 55 percent of homicides, most of which involve weapons that are illegally obtained.
As for guns being used during arguments or in situations involving jilted lovers – these cases are not as frequent as the main culprit for gun violence: gang activity. The vast majority of weapons used in these killings were obtained illegally. The Washington Post reported on a 2016 University of Pittsburgh study which found that people who obtained their firearms legally accounted for less than one-fifth of all gun crimes. “In approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else,” the report noted.
The suicide issue is an important one. Many have taken their own lives using guns. However, The New York Times noted that last year, there were 44,834 suicides. This is still far less than the lowest estimate of DGUs per year. As a nation, we must start taking mental health and suicide more seriously. But placing more Americans in potential danger by making it more difficult to defend themselves is not the answer.
Given the data on defensive uses of guns and the situations in which they are most frequently used, Frum’s argument that owning a firearm makes one less safe does not hold water. DGUs occur even more often than suicides and offensive gun uses. While the type of gun control measures favored by Frum might make people feel safer, they won’t actually protect more Americans.