By Ken Trainor
I owe Dave Schweig a response. After the Aurora, Colo. movie house massacre in late July, I challenged the NRA, and all Second Amendment champions, to acknowledge the responsibility that goes with their freedom to own — and in more and more states to carry — guns. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, I wrote, but gun advocates don't seem to feel any responsibility to do anything that might make it harder for madmen to acquire small arsenals and shoot up public places [Maximum freedom, minimal responsibility, Viewpoints, Aug. 1].
Since that column ran, I have heard nothing to change my tune. The NRA and its bought-off elected officials have gone through their usual shuffling act, deflecting all responsibility. In the meantime, there was the Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin, and another shooting near the Empire State building in New York City. Two police officers got into a shootout with that madman, and several innocent bystanders were hit. Imagine if a number of vigilantes had added their wayward bullets to such a chaotic scene.
Dave Schweig, to his considerable credit, is the first gun advocate I've ever heard from who wasn't haughty, hyper-tense, hysterical and/or hateful in defending his position. He's actually polite and civil. There may be others, but I haven't encountered them. Dave seems like a decent man.
That doesn't, however, mean he's acknowledging any of the responsibilities that go with his freedom to keep and (potentially) bear arms. In his first response to my column [Safety from madmen with guns, Viewpoints, Aug. 15], he advanced the opinion that more guns among the citizenry is the only thing that will lead to less crime.
He threw in several questionable statistics from questionable sources to make his case. To reiterate my oft-stated position, statistics are rarely persuasive because the credibility of the people who rely on them to support their arguments, I've found, is extremely low. I've been burned by misinformation far too often to engage in a stat-slinging contest. If you can't present your argument using reason, you're not going to get very far with me.
Dave makes the case that crime has gone down steadily nationwide in "the last 25 years" (actually it's been 18, starting in 1994) while the number of armed citizens has gone up during the same period. Therefore, one must have caused the other.
In logic, this is known as the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" (after this, therefore because of this) fallacy. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between two factors just because of their chronological proximity.
In this particular situation, the increased number of police officers put on American city streets during the Clinton administration, the resurrection of community policing, plus increased citizen participation in crime prevention are widely considered to have had the biggest impact on crime. Also receiving its share of credit is the "broken window" philosophy of upgrading high-crime, urban neighborhoods by getting rid of graffiti and paying attention to appearances (such as fixing broken windows), which sends an important message about raised community expectations.
The factors that resulted in the remarkable crime turnaround of the last 18 years have been well documented — in the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, for instance. It's possible, I suppose, that vigilantism might have had some infinitesimal impact on crime, but the plus side of the ledger is likely negated by the number of entirely avoidable deaths resulting from gun accidents at home and elsewhere. However, that's just my guess.
In Dave's second response [We need a citizens committee on the OP gun issue, Viewpoints, Aug. 22], he calls for a Citizen Advisory Committee of Inquiry, consisting of an equal number of people from each side, to study the gun issue and send a recommendation to the Oak Park village board. He asked me to join him in supporting this.
I never turn down an invitation to dialogue, but I'm not so keen on "dueling monologues." Dialogue requires an openness to hearing the other's point of view, a willingness to learn something from the opposition. Even a more reasonable gun advocate like Dave Steig has never given me any clear indication of this willingness.
Here's how it works: I have, on several occasions, freely acknowledged that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns. I need Dave to publicly acknowledge that with that right come certain responsibilities — including the recognition that something needs to be done to keep madmen from having such easy access to firearms.
As soon as I hear that, I'll support the inquiry commission on responsible gun ownership.
Until then, I really have no reason to expect to hear anything but more of the same.
Is that fair, Dave? I look forward to your response.
This article has been corrected from a previous version that mispelled "Schweig" in Dave Schweig's name. Wednesday Journal regrets this error.