Why I Carry

Guns, kids, and teaching responsibility, No. 16, 23 June, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

Before I proceed with the subject of this article, allow me to proffer a brief explanation of why I have not been writing articles for the past several weeks. The primary reason is that very little has been happening on the carry front. As I stated in The most hated man in Bloomington, I generally get no reaction at all while I'm carrying. Whether I go into bookstores, grocery stores, department stores, movie theaters, or restaurants, the reaction is the same: none. (It will be interesting to see if there is a substantial difference when I switch to carrying the Glock. I've decided to begin that on the 4th of July. I'll be posting a photo of myself with the Glock, to replace the one of me with the Makarov, soon.) To the extent that this is a chronicle of my experiences carrying openly, there hasn't been much to report. Meanwhile, a couple of months ago I decided to seek the Libertarian Party's nomination to run for Indiana Secretary of State in 2002. I've put together an "exploratory committee" which permits my campaign to begin soliciting campaign donations. My campaign manager, James Baughn, has gotten me scheduled to speak at various events at least once a week for the past couple of months, so that has eaten into my time somewhat. I'm not going to say much about the Secretary of State campaign here since this site is devoted to self-defense politics. I will, however, provide a link to my Secretary of State site once it is up and running. And now, onto the topic for this installment.

Arthur Kellerman, M.D., is in the news again. To refresh the reader's memory, Kellerman is the anti-gun proselyte who has produced a number of so-called studies over the years. The best known is the one that claimed you are 43 times more likely to be killed by a gun in your home than to use it to kill an intruder. Kellerman is not a scientist. He gives no evidence that he has any basic understanding of scientific methodology. Yet, it seems that anything Kellerman releases and calls "research" invariably gets extensive coverage. I don't think the gullibility of the media people and their documented inability to separate legitimate from pseudo-science are sufficient to explain this phenomenon. I have to assume that whatever abilities Kellerman lacks as a scientist, he more than makes up for as a politician. This article is not, however, intended as a speculation on Kellerman's machiavellian skills but rather a simple explanation of why Kellerman's latest "finding" is utterly and completely bogus.

According to the media, Kellerman claims that he has studied young boys and "found" that the overwhelming majority, when put in a room with a gun, will start pulling the trigger. What are we supposed to make of this? Let me say up front that, as I write this, I haven't read Kellerman's actual paper. Nevertheless, based upon my knowledge of his previous work and his reputation (perhaps "notoriety" is a better word), I am extremely skeptical that one can draw any meaningful conclusion from what he claims to have observed. It's pretty clear what we are supposed to conclude: that guns need to be locked away so that young boys can't get at them. After all, they'll start pulling the trigger without thinking and someone will get hurt or killed. Even if we accept that Kellerman had a large enough sample of boys and that there is no selection error (which is already granting Kellerman much more scientific competence than he has heretofore demonstrated), how does this square with the fact, well known among those who study this issue, that the overall rate for gun accidents has been declining for 50 years? We also know that the number of guns, especially pistols, has increased over the past 25 years, so if virtually all boys are totally irresponsible little animals, shouldn't the accident rate be going up?

Since we know the accident rate is not going up, then it means that families that have guns in the house are behaving responsibly, despite what Kellerman would like to have everyone believe. The behavior of the boys described by Kellerman is so irresponsible that Kellerman's sample has to be biased. As it happens, I have been conducting my own research in this area, focusing on gun owners. Unlike Kellerman, I freely admit that my sample is not representative of the U.S. population as a whole (though it probably is fairly representative of gun owners as a subpopulation), and that one cannot draw rigorous scientific conclusions from it. But, what I have found so far is totally at variance with Kellerman: kids who grow up with guns in the home behave very responsibly around guns.

When I have talked to fellow gun owners over the past 8 years - and I'm definitely part of the culture so I've talked to quite a few - I've found that they usually conform to the following pattern:

Time and again, as I've talked to people who owned guns grew and grew up around them, the common theme was that daddy's gun was strictly off limits. Once you were old enough to handle the responsibility of a .22 - usually early teens - that was your gun to use, but daddy's home defense gun was still off limits.

One thing we do know from the scientific research is that most gun accidents are associated with people who have severe alcohol problems and are therefore very irresponsible. This should come as no surprise, since alcohol is associated with a majority of violent crime as well as family dysfunction. Another thing we know is that single parent families, particular those headed by women and without a strong family support system (typically inner-city poor), tend to be dysfunctional and potentiate violent and/or irresponsible behavior in the children they rear. We also know that gun owners, absent alcohol and family dysfunction, are exemplary members of society. In fact, there is some evidence (which I've alluded to in a previous article) that when young males legally own a gun (or guns), they are less prone to violence than young males who own no guns at all.

It is axiomatic that teaching kids to be responsible is teaching them to be self-reliant adults. How do you teach responsibility? You teach it by giving it, and the child learns by practicing it. So it is with guns. After a certain age, children who grow up around guns have been taught by their parents and have learned that all games and childishness ends around guns. And contrary to all of the ivory tower education theorists, who wouldn't know an empirical fact it came up and bit them on the behind, kids are capable of much more adult behavior than they think.

The one potential benefit of Kellerman's "research" is that someone probably will attempt to replicate it and, in the process, do it right. It would be very easy to come up with a research design that would select a truly representative sample of kids (both male and female) and then look at how kids' without any adult supervision behaved around guns. There is every reason to expect that kids who grow up around guns will have been taught how to use guns and will behave responsibly around guns that are both loaded and accessible. But, I wouldn't stop there if I were designing the study. I would want to look at a fairly large number of variables and see if there was any correlation between kids who are accorded the opportunity to be responsible around guns and general indicies of maturity.

It was certainly the view of the Founders that guns, aside from their utility for hunting or self-defense, served the important function of teaching young boys to become responsible men. Responsible men, in turn, are responsible citizens. This idea is found in the writings of English Whig political theorists, who argued for republican systems of self-government in which male citizens bore arms for defense of themselves and the state. But the provenance of the idea that all men should bear arms in order to be responsible citizens is really classical antiquity. It can be found in a wide variety of formulations over the centuries, including that of 14th century Moslem historian, Ibn Khaldûn, whom I quote at the beginning of Your friends and neighbors. Khaldûn argued that surrendering responsibility in exchange for comfort (or the "sedentary" life) is the beginning of decadence.

The attitude that communitarians and other varieties of statists have about armed citizens is a manifestation of a more general view that everyone is a child, except for the bureaucratic elites who are supposed to run things. Citizens can't be trusted to behave responsibly. This view has elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the whole educational system is predicated on the idea that children have only a very limited potential to exhibit mature behavior - to be self-governors - or to function intellectually. If children are not given the opportunity to learn and exercise responsibility, then how are they supposed to acquire this trait as adults? Public education stunts both intellectual and emotional growth. It promotes conformity and groupthink and a willingness to delegate responsibility to governmental institutions.

The statists win if they are able to control education. It's as simple as that. You can't teach your 8- or 9-year-old to understand and be responsible around firearms because we're going to make having a loaded gun in your home illegal. We're going to use the public schools to implant the idea that there is something anti-social about self-defense and that the government is benevolent and all-knowing. This may not be an articulated strategy but it flows naturally from institutional control rather than individual family control of the education agenda.

Don't be mislead by institutionalized demagogues into thinking that some radical change occurred in human beings in the last half of the 20th century so that they can longer be responsible individuals. Bill Clinton said in 1992 the freedoms Americans enjoyed 200 years ago were inappropriate in the modern world - people had too much freedom today. In this, as in so many other areas, Clinton was wrong. He did, however, speak for a large number of people who think that American ideals and virtues are passé. In a very real sense, guns are the last battleground. If Americans can be convinced that they can no longer be responsible owners of guns then they will have entered the final stage of civilization.