Fighting guns with guns

The nonprofit organization known as the Armed Citizen Project recently announced its plans to start a gun giveaway in Tucson, Ariz., that would function as a crime-fighting measure.

Fighting guns with guns? It’s a novel idea. Undoubtedly, this will create a world of controversy, especially in a city such as Tucson, which was the site of the shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the mass killing of six other people in 2011.

Yet the measure, which is headed by former Tucson mayoral candidate Shaun McClusky, is viewed as a potentially essential aspect of crime prevention.

“This is about public safety,” said McClusky. “This is about people protecting themselves.”

Of course, as with nearly any issue, there is another ulterior motive. In addition to public safety, the Armed Citizen Project wants to use this as a research opportunity. The group has already been tracking illegal activity in certain downtrodden neighborhoods and will continue to record activity after the gun handout takes place, with the hope that statistics will show that an armed citizenry does actually help boost public safety, thereby boosting the gun advocacy movement.

Now, of course, we should all be in favor of research; an informed populace is an empowered populace; however, there is just something about the nature of this type of “research” that is troubling. Essentially, this is a project that uses people in a large scale and puts them at potential risk, using them as guinea pigs.

In another world, there could have already been pre-existing professional research documenting the effects of gun ownership on violent incidents. However, in 1996 the NRA forced a bill that banned government funding towards research on guns. While the White House finally repealed the funding ban in January, there has been a 17- year paucity in gun research. Ultimately, this left the door open for gun advocates to conduct research on their own terms.

Furthermore, there are some undeniable concerns as to how this project is to be conducted. The location is questionable – Tucson is not the prime location for a radical gun program. While the city certainly has its risky neighborhoods, it will likely never show up on anyone’s shortlist of dangerous cities of America. Tucson had a 13-year low in crime in 2010, and has a murder rate that is less than one-fifth that of New Orleans, the nation’s highest. In Tucson, there are simply not enough crime risks to warrant the other risks such as increased suicide rates, escalated domestic violence or accidental shootings that can undeniably arise from increased gun ownership.

As far as the Tucson handout program goes, they do get a few props for attempting to minimize some of the risks of firearms. A good portion of the $12,000 raised so far for the program will be spent not only for equipping residents with guns, but for giving them gun locks and training for proper gun handling. They are also giving background checks to any potential recipients of the program, a measure that many extremists of the gun advocacy movement have historically been opposed to. Plus, they are equipping residents with shotguns rather than handguns. Ignore your first glance judgment – the provision of bulky shotguns rather than concealable handguns ensures that the primary use of these weapons will be for home defense rather than for more malicious intent.

However, a bigger concern with the handout program, and with the broader gun advocacy movement, is that an armed citizenry is often being touted as a replacement to an adequate police force. Many gun advocacy programs have the potential to go too far: the town of Nelson, Ga. recently passed the “Family Protection Ordinance,” which would make gun ownership mandatory for adults in the city.

“Having a gun would help residents take their protection into their own hands,” said Heath Mitchell, police chief of Nelson.

Undoubtedly, many police departments are strapped for cash around the nation. However, guns could never function as a universal replacement for police protection. In addition to the obvious domestic risks of firearms, there is also the simple fact that many people will simply refuse to take part in gun ownership or vigilantism. This is more than a simple political concern. This means that there is a sector of the population that will simply not be willing to protect themselves with personal firearms. If gun ownership is proliferated as a universal replacement to police protection, are these people simply to be left defenseless?

There are many questions that are going to be left unanswered by armament advocates. As far as the Armed Citizen Project goes, there is the potential that these measures will, perhaps, show that an armed citizenry does increase public safety. Until results arise, however, all we can do is pray that these measures don’t result in too much damage, collateral or otherwise.