Gunning For Firearms Control

by Bill Steigerwald

Bill Bradley threw the bogus figure around all the time during his failed presidential primary jog and no one called him on it.

TV, newspapers and gun-shy liberal commentators know and chant the figure by heart. It's a tragic, stomach-turning number that is repeated constantly during America's escalating war on guns: 13 of our country's precious children die each day from gun violence.

Sometimes, when it's coming from the likes of the Children's Defense Fund, the number rises to 16 a day. But as Dave Kopel bluntly points out in the gun-hugging April 17 issue of National Review, those numbers are a lie. Even the 13-per-day figure (4,775 per year) is exaggerated by a factor of four -- unless you count a 19-year-old drug dealer who is killed in a shoot-out as a "child." And unless you also lump in suicides, which the American Bar Association and others do to drive their body count up (3,300 "kids" between 14 and 24 killed themselves in a recent year).

Kopel, a think-tank researcher from Colorado, doesn't feign neutrality in his article, "An Army of Lies." Relying on FBI and National Institute of Justice figures, he sets out to debunk various "truths" we've been taught by the anti-gun lobby and its mostly unquestioning allies in mainstream media.

In fact, he says, for children under 14 the real daily death rate from guns is 2.6 -- still a national tragedy. For children under 10, it's 0.4 per day. That, too, is a sorry fact. But, as he argues, it is "far lower than the number of children who are killed by automobiles, drowning or many other causes."

Economist John Lott, whose specialty is sifting through gun data to show the benefits of firearms to society, said in a January interview in Reason that the numbers are even lower: 17 gun deaths for kids under age 5 in 1996 and 44 for children under 10. Given the rapt media attention to each child who dies from a gun, he says it's no wonder few Americans would ever believe that five times more children die in bathtubs each year.

Many Americans have been led to think our backyards are littered with the bodies of children who have died from gun violence -- deliberate or accidental. In fact, Kopel says, the number of fatal gun accidents is at its lowest level since 1903, when figures were first kept.

Maybe Kopel is one of those anti-anti-gun nuts. And so what if he was a little sloppy with his numbers and his sources. His argument that gun-hatred has blinded many Americans to the reality of gun use and abuse is supported by the official stats and a disturbing March 27 article in the Christian Science Monitor by statistician Iain Murray.

Murray, a senior research analyst at the Statistical Assessment Service, reported that when it comes to murdering children -- which Americans do at a rate four times Western Europe's -- there's a greater problem with our culture than just gun abuse.

Murray said that in 1997, according to the FBI, of 738 children under age 13 murdered in the United States, 133 were killed with one of America's 250 million guns. Apparently children are most at risk from knife violence, blunt-object violence and fist violence -- and most of them live in big welfare-cultured cities on the East and West coasts and in the Southwest. According to Murray, 85 percent of America's counties did not have a single child murder in 1997.

As the one-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre approaches, and as we hear new condemnations of our gun culture and calls for more and more gun control to protect our children from "gun violence," Murray's article is especially valuable.

"Despite the attention paid to outbreaks of violence in peaceful suburbs and schools," he says, "the overwhelming majority of child murders happens elsewhere. This fact alone would imply that across-the-board federal solutions affecting the entire country may be misplaced. ...

"Certainly, gun murder of youths 13 to 19 is a significant problem, but the characteristics of murder in this category are clearly quite different than in the younger cohort. By letting ourselves believe that guns are the problem for pre-adolescents, we are avoiding the unpalatable truth that something is very wrong in American society.

"Yet we focus on exceptional cases, and ignore the unsettling nature of the daily reality. There's a lesson here. We may be able to reduce child-murder rates to the levels of other countries if we concentrate on what causes those murders -- and guns aren't the biggest factor."

Covering the Big Newsweeklies
It's the "Elian and Juan Gonzalez Show" in both Time and Newsweek, with both magazines playing the never-ending political soap opera on their covers -- and to the hilt. Both Elian -- who may well be back in Cuba's socialist paradise within a few days and secretly praying for Fidel to hurry up and die of throat cancer -- and his dad are on the cover of Time.

Its eight pages include a rap on Miami's anti-Castro hardliners, the old guard of Cuban exiles whose chief sins among the media seem to be their wealth and success and their failure to moderate their intense hatred for communism and Fidel. ("The Slanderers of Cuban-Americans," a piece in The Weekly Standard, presents ample evidence that "uppity, anti-communist Cuban Americans" are the one ethnic group it is still politically correct for editorialists and commentators to smear.) A Time sidebar shows Elian isn't the only case in which parents are fighting for custody of their children across international borders, just the most symbolic.

Newsweek's coverage, heavy with photos, also clearly favors the father's right to take Elian home to Cuba, where we are assured he will enjoy what passes for a privileged life. As a loyal Communist Party member and a worker with access to tips in a tourist area, Elian's dad is relatively well off. He owns an air-conditioner and presumably has another great Cuban luxury: toilet paper.

"Elian's Cuba," a five-page tour of his hometown near Havana, mindlessly repeats the liberal myth that Cuba's education and health care systems are "among the best in the Americas." Still, the article does a good job of detailing how poor and unfree life is like for the 6 million prisoners trapped in Fidel's shabby museum of 20th-century communism.

U.S. News & World Report, always the most short-winded of the newsweeklies, takes care of the War Over Elian in less than two pages. U.S. News spends most of its pages jumping the gun on the Columbine multi-mediafest coming next week, which will replay and rehash the lessons and after-effects of the massacre last April 20; It wants everyone to hear the "good news about teenagers" -- which is that they are getting arrested less, pregnant less and dropping out of school less. Also, columnist Randall Stross makes clever fun of Al Gore and shows that the so-called digital divide that separates the access whites and blacks have to the Internet is a myth not worth throwing taxpayers' money at.

Quick Reads
The cover of the May/June American Photo is adorned with the lovely, shirt-doffing wife of Tom Cruise, and inside Cindy Crawford and other beauties appear in various states of undress. American Photo, which unfortunately has no website, always relies on the naked female form to spice up its usually interesting mix of features, profiles, field tests and ads for camera gear.

Along with its charms, the issue also contains seven horrible black-and-white images of dead black American men and women hanging from Southern trees and telephone poles. Drawn from a new book, "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America," they are photos and post-cards from a collection that was put on exhibition earlier this year in a Manhattan gallery.

Carol Squiers says it all in her accompanying article: The pictures "are a devastating indictment of not only the lynchers and voyeuristic crowds, but of the photographers themselves. The people who made the images ... were not dispassionately recording history; they were collaborators in a hideous spectacle, and their involvement makes these unbearable pictures even more difficult to look at."

For a year now National Geographic Adventure has been pleasing the young and strong people who like to engage in (or just read about) high adventure. The March/April issue, which presents a list of the 100 best hiking, climbing, biking, skiing, boating adventures in America, has a great feature on Gary Larkins, a.k.a. "The Warbird Hunter."

Larkins is the best salvager in the world when it comes to finding and recovering rare World War II warplanes. Writer Carl Hoffman traveled with Larkins when he and his high-tech flotilla went in search of a shiny B-17 bomber that will bring $2 million -- if Larkins can lift it off the bottom of a fjord in Greenland. You don't need to own your own kayak or be able to rappel down the face of a glacier to appreciate the article's good writing, great photography and love of high adventure.

World Net Daily