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Can We Earn an F for Michigan’s Gun Laws?

Can We Earn an F for Michigan’s Gun Laws?
By David K. Felbeck

The Brady Group has changed its name from Handgun Control in an effort to disguise its true objective, the abolition of firearms in private hands, and now pretends to direct its efforts “for the children.” In reading its evaluation of Michigan’s laws, published recently in the News, we in Michigan should be disappointed that Michigan received a grade of only a D+ rather than a grade of F because most of Handgun Control’s criteria are in complete opposition to the facts. It is encouraging to note that 31 states rated D or F. We in Michigan can do better, and perhaps next year we will join the eight states that currently share the distinguished “F” status.

The article makes some questionable criticisms of Michigan law, including:

1. An adult is not penalized if he permits a child to access a firearm with which he harms someone.
2. Michigan has no law requiring indicators to show that a handgun is “loaded,” by which they apparently mean whether the handgun has a round in the chamber.
3. No standards exist for safety locks for firearms.
4. The state has no requirements for background checks for purchasers of firearms at gun shows.
5. The state has a “shall issue” concealed carry law.
6. 101 “children” died by gunfire in 2000 in Michigan.
7. The end of the “assault weapon” ban (a federal law) will lead to more violence in Michigan.

It should prove instructive to address each of these statements from a somewhat different perspective from that of the Handgun Control group. For the reader who uncritically believes that all firearms are bad, everywhere and at all times, we recommend that you read no further. Other readers with more open minds might be astonished at the extraordinarily high benefit/cost ratio demonstrated by firearms. Various estimates conclude that people use firearms for self defense from one to 2.5 million times per year. If there are about 13,000 non-suicide firearm deaths per year nationally, this leads to a conservative benefit/cost ratio of 1,000,000/13,000 = 77. Thus for every person killed by firearms, whether by homicide or accident, at least 77 people use a firearm to defend themselves from criminal attack, quite possibly saving their lives thereby. Further, several studies (report of the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention; study by the Library of Congress) have shown that no evidence exists that the 20,000 firearm laws already on the books (Department of Justice study) have had any effect on preventing violence. Criminals by definition ignore all laws but they do worry about whether their victims are armed.

Each of Handgun Control’s statements listed above deserves a response.

1. Michigan law already says that an adult will be charged for allowing access to a firearm by a minor if he injures someone; we don’t need another law.
2. Children are unlikely to check a handgun for an indicator. An adult knows how to check to see if a firearm has a round in the chamber. We don’t need to pass a law requiring indicators.
3. In an article in the Detroit News on June 2, 2000, John Lott described a study covering the period 1977-96 that concluded, “¼safe storage laws had no impact on either type [juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides] of death.” Further, a gun that is locked up or has a trigger lock is unavailable to its owner for use in self defense (see above). It’s easy to see that trigger locks can cost lives as well as save lives.
4. Michigan doesn’t need background checks for gun show purchasers because the National Instant Check System already requires such checks for firearm purchases. Further, to purchase a handgun in Michigan a resident must be 21 and obtain a prior permit which includes a background check.
5. Michigan’s “shall issue” concealed pistols law, passed in 2000, has directly contributed to a remarkable reduction in crime, particularly in Detroit, where in 2002, the first full year of concealed carry, homicides dropped by 32 percent and overall crime dropped by 8 percent. The prosecutor said that this was the largest drop in Detroit’s history (Detroit News, April 30, 2003). The Detroit police of course claimed credit for this improvement, but why couldn’t they achieve this before the state reformed its concealed carry laws? Homicides in Detroit dropped a further ten percent in 2003 (News, Jan. 2, 2004). With 36 states now having “shall issue” concealed carry laws, there remains no doubt of the validity of Dr. John Lott’s classic study, “More Guns Less Crime,” that demonstrated that concealed carry laws reduce all assaultive crimes by from 5 to 8 percent. In Michigan, now with over 103,000 licensees, in two and a half years not a single licensee has illegally shot anyone with his concealed pistol. For any group to continue to claim that concealed carry laws do anything but improve public safety is to deny decades of factual data.
6. In Michigan in 2000, exactly two children under 15 died of accidental gunfire, 4 by suicide, and 8 by homicide. Anyone who claims that teenagers 15 and over are “children” insults the intelligence of 15-year-olds. The vast majority of youth firearm deaths are attributable to young males in gangs, and these young men will not be deterred by any conceivable law.
7. The FBI says that approximately 2 percent of all murders are committed using semi-automatic rifles. The 1994 “assault weapons” ban prohibits the importation of an ill-defined set of “ugly” semi-automatic rifles. There is no difference between the semi-automatic rifles used legally for hunting and the banned “ugly” semi-automatic rifles except that the banned imported rifles tend to be cheaper and of much weaker caliber (e.g., 7.62 x 39 mm vs. .300 Win.). Allowing the “assault weapons” ban to lapse in 2004 will have zero effect on crime. Three years before the act was passed, violent crime began a decline that has continued unabated to the present. The 1994 act had no effect on crime rates. Further, this is not a Michigan issue.

In closing, it appears that these evaluations, by a group that alleges its concern for the safety of children, are not focusing on the primary hazards to young children, which are vehicle accidents, fires, drownings, and suffocations, all of which kill far more children than do guns. For example, in Michigan in 2000, five of the 80 children who died from suffocation were strangled by curtain cords (Michigan Family Independence Agency report), in contrast to the two that died from firearm accidents. Gun deaths are today at the lowest since 1903, when data were first collected, and we all pray that this trend will continue. The whole matter is clearly a non-issue.

David K. Felbeck is an Ann Arbor resident and immediate past president of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.

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