The "Psychic Cost" of Holiday Gift-Giving

By Dr. Paul Gallant and David Kopel

1997. More by Kopel on health and psychological issues and gun control.

The approach of the holiday season brings a perennial problem: what to give the relative or good friend who already has a VCR? For many American gift-givers the answer has often been a high-quality firearm. Perhaps that long-admired hunting rifle, for him? Maybe a LadySmith revolver for her?

"Don't do it - you'll frighten your neighbors!" warn some latter-day Scrooges, citing an article "Firearms and Community Feelings of Safety," from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Polling information "provides suggestive evidence that possession of firearms imposes, at minimum, psychic costs on most other members of the community," wrote David Hemenway of Harvard's School of Public Health.

Like Dickens' character, the contemporary Scrooges would cast a cloud over the joy of holiday gift-giving among many of their fellow Americans, invoking unwarranted fear.

Hemenway studied the "psychic costs": the psychological effect a gun-owner's possession of firearms has on her neighbors. According to Hemenway, "eighty-five percent of non-gun-owners report they would feel less safe if more people in their community acquired guns; only 8% would feel more safe."

But "psychic costs" are imaginary. The reality is that non-gun-owners benefit when their neighbors possess firearms.

Social science research has shown that the regions with the highest rates of gun ownership are the safest. Conversely, in gun-banning cities like Washington, D.C., and Chicago, criminals run wild, knowing that victims cannot legally protect themselves.

In a study of 15 years worth of data on concealed-carry of handguns in America, University of Chicago Professor John Lott showed that all Americans are safer when the good guys are armed. When law-abiding, trained citizens can carry concealed handguns for protection, the violent crime rate drops six to eight percent. Everyone, not just gun carriers, benefits, since criminals don't know which potential victims might have a gun.

Similarly, America has a much lower rate of home invasion burglaries than does England or Canada, where gun ownership for protection is illegal. American burglars usually make sure that no victims are home. Canadian and British burglars, however, prefer that the victim is home, so that wallets and purses can be stolen too.

Because American burglars can't be sure exactly which homes have guns (about half of American homes do), American burglars must avoid all dwellings where somebody might be present. Thus, people without guns enjoy greater safety in the home, thanks to the large number of Americans who do own guns.

Complementing the evidence about individual criminals is the evidence about criminal government. In the book "Lethal Laws", the group Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership provides incontrovertible proof that whenever genocide takes place in the 20th century, the government first disarms the intended victims.

Free elections are not a guarantee against genocide; Hitler was elected democratically. As "Lethal Laws" demonstrates, the only ironclad protection against mass murder by government is that victims be able to resist.

Simply put, the more guns, the safer the community. Summing up the interactions of firearms and human nature, criminologists Alan Lizotte and Hans Toch (a former gun control advocate) arrived at a very politically-incorrect conclusion: "...guns do not elicit aggression in any meaningful way. Quite the contrary...high saturations of guns in places, or something correlated with that condition, inhibit illegal aggression."

The question posed by Hemenway about "feelings" of safety raises another question: should baseless, irrational fears of some people be a reason to limit the rights of others? If some people irrationally fear that Black people are dangerous, should Black people lose the right to move into a neighborhood? If some people irrationally fear gun ownership by their law-abiding neighbors, should those neighbors lose the right to self-defense?

The hate-mongering against gun owners by the gun prohibition lobbies in Washington sows the seeds of fear, distrust, and division in our society. Perhaps Hemenway should examine the "psychic cost" imposed by anti-gun lobbies' campaign against responsible gun owners.

In the end, Scrooge achieved salvation through a miraculous transformation, which vanquished his fear of mankind. Perhaps at least a few members of the anti-self-defense lobby, like Scrooge, will overcome their misanthropy in a dream this Christmas Eve, and wake up shouting the truth to everyone in the street: "Gun owners are your friends and neighbors, not your enemy. Gun ownership by good people makes all of us safer."

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