Missouri Voters Made The Right Choice In Concealed Weapons Referendum

9 April 1999

By Stentor Danielson

In a news report dominated recently by coverage of the Kosovo fiasco, the recent vote on Missouri's Proposition B was a refreshing bit of good news. If you haven't heard, Proposition B was a statewide referendum to legalize concealed weapons, which was narrowly defeated earlier this week. And although it goes against every fiber of my commentary writer's being to compliment, rather than complain about, an event, I have decided that this decision by the people of Missouri deserves my praise.

Before I get down to the business of defending my stance on concealed handguns, I would also like to say that the defeat of Proposition B was especially pleasing in light of the campaigning being done for and against it. The National Rifle Association (NRA) was, of course, the proposition's biggest supporter. And since the right to have a gun is the heart and soul of the NRA, they spent enormous amounts of money -- nearly four million dollars -- on propaganda to sway voters.

Opponents, on the other hand, raised not quite a million dollars. This obviously led to a discrepancy in quality and quantity of the advertisements put out by the two groups. But in a stunning triumph that I would not have believed Americans capable of, the voters of Missouri were not swayed by the NRA's flashy brochures and slick TV commercials. Or, at least, they were not swayed enough to defeat Proposition B.

The main argument advanced in favor of concealed weapons is that, if criminals think that anybody on the street could be carrying a gun, they will be less likely to attempt a violent crime, for fear of being shot. But if you're that worried about being unable to defend yourself, I would think you would want to carry a non-concealed weapon. That way, you would broadcast to any lurking ne'er-do-wells that you have a gun, and you know how to use it. They wouldn't have to guess. They would be more cognizant of the risk involved, and would therefore find a different victim, someone who may not be carrying a gun. If your gun is concealed, you send the message that you might not be carrying a weapon, or at least that you might not be able to get it out quick enough and know what to do with it. It's my guess that it's a fair bit easier to whip a gun out of a holster while a mugger is grabbing you than to open up your purse -- which he is probably also grabbing - and root around for it.

And once you have the gun out, what do you do with it? Proposition B specified a state-supervised training period for anyone who wants to carry a gun. But training is not the same as the real situation. I went to summer camp for several years and participated in the mandatory archery and b.b. gun activities, and for a little kid I was a decent shot. But I was shooting at a piece of paper, in a carefully controlled shooting-friendly and, above all, safe, environment. I suspect that it would be a little bit different on the street with a mugger -- who has probably gotten pretty good at doing his business quickly -- as my target. I can't even imagine shooting a deer or a squirrel, so how am I going to shoot a human being, or convincingly threaten to do so? I suspect that many gun-toting civilians would find, when it came time, that this is true for them, too, even if they don't think so now. Criminals would quickly realize that most people wouldn't be able to really shoot them, whether because of their conscience, or because their nerves fouled up their aim.

Furthermore, I think there would be a tendency for people to think, "I've got a gun, so I'm safe." They would let the presence of a weapon take the place of other safety measures that Missouri's citizens currently take to protect themselves, like avoiding dark alleys and not carrying large sums of money on their person. People would come to equate gun ownership, not intelligent decision-making, with safety. And not only would this make people's habits less safe, but it would also foster the idea that, since it's acceptable to carry a gun, it must be acceptable to use it. As it stands under the ban, attack with a firearm is a last resort, and largely the province of the police -- a highly trained arm of the government. But a populace armed to the teeth opens the door for vigilante action.

Moving beyond the realm of crime scene defense, it seems to me that if people are allowed to carry concealed guns, more people will have guns and keep them close at hand. The obvious danger here is for children. A loaded pistol in a purse is much more accessible to a curious little kid than an unloaded rifle locked in a gun cabinet. There are enough incidences of children accidentally -- or purposefully -- shooting each other. Increasing the availability of guns would just exacerbate this problem.

And children wouldn't be the only ones who could suffer from more guns being around. Not everyone has the self control and clear judgment under stress to decide when they are threatened to a sufficient extent to justify shooting someone. How many times have you said "I'm going to kill that [expletive deleted]?" Even though you may not have meant it seriously, there are people out there who, in the heat of the argument, wouldn't stop to realize that they don't really want someone to die. But once somebody is already dead, it's too late to think about it. When someone is in the grip of emotion, they might reach for their gun, regardless of whether it's a life-or-death situation.

You may think that the preceding paragraph contradicts what I wrote earlier about gun carriers being ineffective in the heat of the moment against an assailant. But there are two general categories of concealed weapon owners. One kind, the kind I spoke about first and on whose behalf Proposition B was proposed, are the people who carry a gun to protect themselves from violent crime. These people are afraid, and consequently won't necessarily use their gun effectively. The second category is those who take advantage of the presence of weapons for motives other than self-defense. These people are angry, and will consequently not necessarily use their gun responsibly. They are actors, not reactors, and are thus in somewhat more control of how well the gun does its job. Unfortunately, they are less in control of what job they make the gun do.

A final fact from the election results will back my reasoning. Support for Proposition B was higher in rural areas than in urban ones. Now, as far as I know, the kind of violent crime that concealed weapons are supposed to prevent is more prevalent in cities. This means that city residents ought to be more afraid for their safety. So if the safety argument was truly persuasive and truly the motive behind the push for Proposition B, one would expect support to be higher in urban areas. But urban residents, who are most familiar with the crime problem, decided that they didn't need concealed guns to protect themselves.

So, I would like to congratulate the people of Missouri for making the right choice, albeit by a small margin. And if your home state ever holds a referendum like Proposition B (or its reverse, as many states' legislators have bowed to the powerful gun lobby and repealed the concealed weapons law without holding a referendum), I hope you'll shoot it down -- with a properly displayed weapon, of course.

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