»  National Review Online

January 17th, 2002

  Less Guns, More Gun Crime


[I got approx. 875,000 emails from readers telling me that this piece should have been titled: "Fewer Guns, More Gun Crime"

I understand that they meant well; and, given the current state of the language (Am I the last person in the civilized world who knows that "criteria" is a plural noun, or is there someone else? Hello?) I am in general sympathy with their feelings.

Furthermore, I do make grammatical bloopers, sometimes very horrible ones; and these lapses occasionally even get past the gimlet-eyed editors of NR and NRO. In a magazine piece on the Crusades a few weeks prior to this, I wrote "whence" when I should have written "whither," and this faux pas actually made it into print.

When gross errors like that are pointed out to me, first I cringe, then I offer snivelling apologies. OK? Now: Permit me to give a wee lesson in rhetoric.

It is perfectly all right to deliberately mangle usage, grammar, and even spelling to make a stylistic or rhetorical point. It is, in fact, so all right that rhetoricians have fancy names for these dark arts.

• The substitution of one grammatical form for another is "enallage":  "But see where Somerset and Clarence comes!" (Henry VI Part 3, 4.2.3 — just to ram the point home, all my examples will be taken from the Swan of Avon).

• The substitution of one part of speech for another is "anthimeria":  "Such stuff as madmen tongue and brain not." (Cymbeline, 5.4.146).

• Substitution of the wrong noun or adjective for effect is "catachresis":  "Look with thine ears." (King Lear, 4.6.154).

• Insertion of superfluous words for euphony or reinforcement is "pleonasm":  "When that I was and a little tiny boy." (Twelfth Night, 5.1.398).

There are a dozen others, but I hope these are sufficient to make the point. English is not a computer code, in which the slightest deviation from prescribed rules brings down the system. It is a live thing, a thing that wants to be teased and played with, as all the great masters knew.

I hereby declare my intention to follow their example, to the best of my meager abilities: "With little risk of being misunderstood, but with much risk of being thought illiterate." (That is from Arthur Quinn's invaluable handbook to English rhetoric, Figures of Speech, from which all the above examples were lifted.)

Got all that? Now: "Less Guns, More Gun Crime" was a deliberate play on the title of John Lott's well-known book, More Guns, Less Crime, which I mention further down the piece. Deliberate, and perfectly legitimate; unless you want to argue with Bill Shakespeare — or with Joe Jacobs, whose memorable (though I grant you, in his case probably unintentional) enallage "We was robbed!" probably expresses the feelings of any of my would-be correctors who have read this note.]


Gun control in action: here are some recent headlines from the British press.

Boys held up at gunpoint for a phone and £25

One Bullet Kills Two Men at New Year Party

Phone-Snatcher Shoots Teenage Girl in the Head

Police Being 'Armed by Stealth' as Gun Use Reaches Record Level

Police Fear Crime Explosion as School-Age Muggers Graduate to Guns

Stolen Army Weapons Used by London Drug Gang

In pure logic, only four possible states of gun ownership in a society are possible:

  1. Everybody has a gun.
  2. Nobody has a gun.
  3. Criminals have guns but law-abiding people don't.
  4. Law-abiding people have guns but criminals don't.

If you are a liberal, option (2) is probably your ideal; if you are a conservative, you probably prefer option (4). Unfortunately neither option (2) nor option (4) is practically possible in the United States today.

Option (2) is not possible because, in the first place, the country is full of guns, which could not be taken from all their owners under any imaginable scheme of confiscation; and because in the second place, guns are not particularly difficult to make in a decently well-equipped home metal-working shop; and because in the third place, guns will be smuggled in, just as drugs and illegal immigrants are. Unless you are willing to contemplate social controls at levels an order of magnitude higher than anything this country has ever known or contemplated, you will not free American society of guns.

Option (4) is not possible for the same reason, and an additional one. One thing criminals like to do is steal things. Once in a while a criminal will steal a gun from a law-abiding person, until eventually there is a good supply floating around in the criminal world. (As a sidebar to this, it is interesting to note that of the 150 or so law enforcement officers killed every year in the U.S., one in four is shot with his own weapon. The moral of that is: If you are defending yourself with a gun against someone bigger than yourself, be much less scrupulous about shooting him than police officers have to be. As we Second Amendment defenders like to say: "Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.")

The practical choice is, therefore between options (1) and (3). These are the only practical choices. You can attain option (3) by passing laws against gun ownership. Law-abiding people will then, by definition, not own guns. You can attain option (1) by removing restrictions on gun ownership.

The United States, via the Second Amendment, has wisely chosen option (1). Britain, the U.S.A.'s cousin nation, has decided to give option (3) a try, and the results of this experiment are coming in.

Following the elementary-school massacre at Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, an attempt was made to ban all handguns in Britain. The Conservative government of the time opposed the attempt, and the attempt failed. However, when Tony Blair's Labour Party attained power in 1997, they made a handgun ban one of their first orders of business. A law was drawn up by Home Secretary (i.e. Attorney General) Jack Straw and passed the Labour-dominated House of Commons on June 11th 1997, the vote being 384 to 181. All private ownership of handguns thereupon became illegal. In a subsequent amnesty, 160,000 handguns were turned in to the police.

What happened to gun crime following the ban? It increased dramatically, that's what. In the two years following that vote in Parliament, the number of crimes in which a handgun was reported to have been used in Britain went from 2,648 to 3,685 — a 40 per cent rise.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. On New Year's Day in London, a 19-year-old woman was shot in the head in a suburban street in broad daylight because she would not hand over her cell phone to a mugger. Four days previously, also in London, three boys aged 10, 12 and 16 were robbed at gunpoint in a fast-food establishment. The use of firearms in London muggings has increased 53 per cent in the past year. There are now two shootings a day in London, with every kind of firearm up to Uzi submachine guns in play.

The surprising thing about this is that anyone should be surprised. In his 1998 classic More Guns, Less Crime, John Lott showed, by a straightforward analysis of statistics, that the possibility of potential victims being armed has a dampening effect on crime. Common sense suggests, and the recent British experience proves, that the converse is also true: The certainty that a potential victim is unarmed is an encouragement to armed criminals. Less guns, more crime.

As Jeff Jacoby noted in the Boston Globe a couple of weeks ago, these are good times for Second Amendment defenders. We have an Attorney General who actually believes in the darn thing, lawsuits against gun manufacturers are being tossed out everywhere, and Handgun Control, Inc. is laying off staff. The conventional wisdom that the proper strategy when faced with a violent desperado is to comply passively with his demands has become seriously unfashionable, and over the last four months Americans have been arming themselves at unprecedented rates. All this does my heart good, naturally. There is just one small point I'd like to make.

I've been to a number of Second Amendment events, and seen the spirit, the commitment and the organizing intelligence that participants bring to them. Too often in conservative politics I find myself confronting the William Butler Yeats syndrome: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity." Second Amendment events are one area of conservative culture where you never sense that. Here are conservatives fired up and ready to roll, well organized under effective leadership.

What I long to see is for the rest of the conservative movement to be that well-motivated and that well-organized. When we can fight the taxers and regulators, the affirmative-action and illegal-immigration lobbies, the trial lawyers and the public-sector unions, the arts-subsidy crowd and the multi-culti America-haters, the language police and the thought police, the agressive promoters of unrestricted abortion, homosexual "marriage," bilingual education, slavery reparations and all the rest of the Left's project to lead us forward, sheep-like, into a radiant future of universal harmony — when we can fight all that with the same energy and intelligence the Second Amendment folk bring to their particular corner of the battlefield, then we'll have some chance of rolling back the creeping socialism of the past thirty years. Join a local gun group and see how they do it, even if you don't care about guns. You might learn something.