Letters — From the August 2013 issue


Exchanging Fire

Dan Baum misses the mark for the best way to control gun violence [“How to Make Your Own AR-15,” Report, June]. The truth is that guns don’t kill people, ammunition does — and banning ammunition or restricting its sale would be considerably easier than banning firearms themselves. Bullets are relatively unambiguous in purpose, consist of easily traceable components, and are very difficult to make at home — even with a 3-D printer. Regulating ammunition would allow gun hobbyists to continue to construct and modify their weapons while restricting their ability to do harm to others. The U.S. Constitution grants Americans the right to bear arms, but does it also grant them the right to live ammunition?

Nicholas Lamm

Baum is right that banning possession of AR-15 semiautomatic rifles is a fool’s errand and that gun owners have a responsibility to keep their firearms secure from criminals and unsupervised children. But mandating gun safes and making owners criminally liable for acts committed with guns stolen from their homes isn’t closing the barn door after the horse has bolted; it’s opening that door to tyranny.

There’s only one way to ensure that a gun-safe requirement is being followed: random inspections. That sounds more like a police state than a republic in which citizens are innocent until proven guilty.

Making gun owners responsible for criminal misuse of stolen firearms is patently ridiculous. Since there isn’t a safe that can’t be breached, a mandatory gun-safe law would have no practical impact — other than discouraging law-abiding Americans from exercising their natural, civil, and constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.

Most American gun owners are extremely responsible: they keep their firearms secure and teach their children about gun safety. Both the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have programs designed to encourage these practices. Prescribing a cure for the few dangerously lax gun owners through mandatory gun-safe and liability laws is no less a feel-good nonsolution than banning the AR-15.

Robert Farago
Publisher, The Truth About Guns
Austin, Tex.

Dan Baum responds:
Individually, most gun owners are responsible. But as a community, we’re a mess. Led by the NRA, the gun-rights lobby has been so focused on protecting its right to keep and bear arms that it has completely ignored its most important duty — to be conscientious stewards of these dangerous devices. I never hear the NRA talk about gun owners’ responsibilities to society at large, except when it is urging people to buy and carry more guns.

To raise the specter of random inspections is dishonest. If a gun that shows up at a crime scene is traced to me, and I cannot demonstrate that it was properly locked up and that I reported the theft to the police, then I should be considered criminally liable — not for the offense committed with the gun, but for failure to respect an important addendum to the four rules laid out by the father of modern pistol shooting, Jeff Cooper: Always maintain control of your firearm.

The problem of gun violence could be largely solved with no government intervention at all if gun owners considered it unforgivable to leave a gun in a nightstand, closet, or glove compartment. But we’ve demonstrated that we don’t, so we should not be surprised when the nanny state steps in. We have only ourselves to blame.

The Postcolony

As Rebecca Solnit points out in “The Separating Sickness” [Miscellany, June], the effects of leprosy are not only bacteriological but also social. The stigma associated with the disease is so strong that some patients who have been cured but still display such symptoms as peripheral neuropathy, which often causes visible damage to the feet, would rather tell their employers that they suffer from type 2 diabetes than admit they once had leprosy.

Advocates have begun to openly challenge that stigma. Vagavathalli Narsappa, for instance, has fought to overturn a law barring people with leprosy from holding public office in India, where 130,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The rest of us ought to follow his lead.

Sarah Nancollas
Chief Executive, Lepra
Colchester, England


Ted Conover’s “The Way of All Flesh” [Report, May] incorrectly implied that antibiotics promote the formation of abscesses in the liver of cattle. In fact, antibiotics such as tylosin are used to control abscesses, which are thought to form when cattle are moved to feedlots and their diet switches from grass to grain.

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  • LeftShooter

    Dan Baum,

    First, unless there is a gun registry, how will the police know the gun came from my home? Second, what if someone steals a knife or a baseball bat from my house and either is used in a homicide, am I still criminally liable? Where does that end?

    • Ulysses Not yet home

      “Stolen” guns? Be serious The number of guns reported as “stolen” each year is in excess of 300,000. Either gun owners are astonishingly negligent or astonishingly mendacious. As the beat representative in my police district says “stolen is what you call a gun you sold to a felon when you get caught…” ALL of the guns in the hands of criminals were first sold to a lawful purchaser, but somehow ended up in the hands of someone not legally permitted to possess one. Ethical gun owners need to recognize the complicity of their less ethical peers in the arming of the criminal community and come up with a solution that THEY can live with before the rest of us come up with one that they can’t.

      • LeftShooter

        According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report:
        Firearms Stolen during Household Burglaries and Other Property Crimes, 2005-2010, released 11/8/2012, there were an average of 232,400 firearms stolen each year over the 2005-2010 period. Given approximately 300 million firearms, that suggests about 77 guns stolen per 100,000 guns owned. A problem, to be sure, but maybe not such a big problem. Moreover, the amount of “victimizations”
        where any amount of firearms were stolen has declined 49% from 283,600 in 1994 to 145,300 in 2010, which suggests to me that gun owners might be doing a better job securing their firearms. Recent reductions in firearms accidents probably stems from better storage, too.

        Now that we have some of the actual facts displayed, I don’t
        understand your tone or your argument. You seem to deny that guns are actually stolen, instead claiming that a certain percentage of gun owners willingly become felons to sell to criminals. And, you reference your “street cred” by allowing that a police officer disdainfully declares legitimate gun owners to be criminals. He should
        be ashamed and you shouldn’t be so gullible.

  • PavePusher

    Mr. Baum, you wrote: “I never hear the NRA talk about gun owners’ responsibilities to society at large, except when it is urging people to buy and carry more guns.”

    I would suggest that you are being willfully ignorant, if not flatly mendacious, as it is well known that the NRA sponsors and runs the largest firearms safety and skills training system in the world.


    Would you care to attempt another mis-statement?

  • James Bone

    Nicholas Lamm,

    You say that ammunition components are easily traceable and that it is difficult to make ammunition at home? Hardly. Like you, I am Canadian and you or I could purchase all the components to make ammunition at home, from gun powder, to casing, and the bullet itself without any licence or means to trace. The equipment needed to make ammunition is widely available and likewise unrestricted (and not particularly expensive, as investments go for hobbies). Loading and reloading one’s own ammunition is a time-honored pursuit for gun enthusiasts and you’re not going to get any traction trying to restrict the hobbies of the law-abiding through the back door.

  • BeaArthursGhost

    Dear Mr. Farago,

    The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the constitution alone: it is neither a civil nor a natural right.


September 2015

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