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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Gun Debate at Work

On my way home last night I listened to a long-form news report on NPR about the Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court ruled that law-abiding citizens have the right to own guns for their own protection. The case has been years in the making and involved overreaching gun control laws in the District of Columbia which prohibited lawful handgun ownership. NPR, of course, was predicting the end of civilization as we know it. Curiously enough, it blamed D.C.'s unacceptable violent crime and murder rate not on defenseless citizens, but on gun shows in Maryland. In other words, their answer to the dismal failure of gun control in D.C. was to export it to Maryland.


The high court's ruling came on the heels of yet another workplace shooting, this time at Atlantis Plastics in Henderson, KY fairly near my home town. There Wesley Higdon shot his boss and five coworkers before killing himself. He used a handgun that he kept legally in his vehicle (as even non-permit holders are allowed to do). Looking at shootings like this one and hearing about the loosening of gun ownership restrictions, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that more guns make a society less safe, and banning guns at work or elsewhere will reduce shootings. Well, not so fast.


D.C. has been notorius for gun violence for years. Their solution was to disarm their people and rely completely on police for protection. Kentucky's solution was to develop a system to qualify law abiding people to defend themselves. Part of this difference is geographic, as in a larger rural land area police can't be everywhere. Growing up in rural Western Kentucky, I remember the only time we ever called the county sheriff (because of a break-in one of our barns) they called us three days later to see if we still needed them to come out. D.C. is a more compact and urban land area and more conducive to police response.

But another more important difference is cultural. D.C. has a larger percentage of its population in public housing, on public assistance of one type or another, and is a more urban/community-oriented culture. Kentucky is more rural, and more than slightly ornery. One of the foundations of Kentucky jurisprudence in the area of self defense comes from a 1931 case Gibson v. Commonwealth where the state supreme court established the right to self defense, emphatically, by ruling:


"It is the tradition that a Kentuckian never runs. He does not have to...he is not obligated to retreat, nor to consider whether he can safely retreat, but is entitled to stand his ground and meet any attack made upon him with a deadly weapon"


Based in large part upon this foundational ruling, Kentucky passed one of the best Concealed Deadly Weapons laws in the country in October, 1996 and I obtained my permit within a few months of its passing. To date, literally thousands of permit holders have successfully defended their lives, the lives of others, and their property with deadly force. To date, not a single permit holder has been charged or convicted of misuse of deadly force.

The results of the D.C. and Kentucky approaches are clear. In Kentucky the murder rate was increasing steadily from 1960 when such records started being kept on a statewide basis, until 1996 when the law was passed. In 2006 (last year for which I can find data), the murder rate is at its lowest since 1963. In 2006, Kentucky had 169 murders with a population of 4.2 million while D.C. had 168 murders with a population of 581,000. In 2006 Kentuckians experienced 2.6 violent crimes committed for every 1,000 people; in D.C. that number was 15.1.

D.C's high crime rate is because it is the ultimate soft target, like workplaces and schools. Any place where people are defenseless and can't shoot back is an easy target for someone with bad intentions and a gun. When's the last time you heard of a crazed gunman walking into a police station and opening fire?

The Supreme Court got this one right, and the answer to the horrible phenomenon of workplace shootings is to qualify and register honest people to carry and use deadly weapons, and then allow those in the workplace. The Kentucky law, unlike Tennessee, specifically prohibits businesses from terminating permit holders for carrying a firearm on company property regardless of company policy. However, Kentucky allows employers to restrict that firearm to the personal automobile of the permit holder making the workplace, as in Tennessee, a soft target unless you have armed security. It should be up to each employer to quietly change their policies to allow permit holders to carry in the workplace and save the lives of themselves and their coworkers the next time some crazy with a gun walks into the lobby.

Should we care about this at Christian companies? Absolutely! As my former boss once said, "There are nuts, and there are religious nuts, and those are the ones to fear".


5 comments:

Michael S. Hyatt said...

I agree completely.

Chad Graves said...

I couldn't agree more. Criminals don't pay attention to the laws anyway so the law abiding citizens are the ones to pay the price. I sure hope the time never comes when I have to shoot someone in self defense or in defense of a third party but I would like the peace of mind knowing that "my friend" was right there in case it was needed.

Michael said...

One of the best gun control articles, I've read. Fantastic! But will nelson start allowing its employees to wear holsters and chaps? :)

Rick said...

Very informative post. Great insight into the truth of our gun laws and the situations they present. And from growing up in South Central Kentucky, I concur wholeheartedly. Thanks

Evan said...

I like where your head's at with this article, and I think you got the analysis on the DC ruling correct. However, I really don't see many parallels between Kentucky and DC. First of all, you even said it yourself, about the two cultures being different, so why go and try to compare statistics? That sounds like a erroneous method of comparison. Clearly, you have never lived in one of those "public housing" neighborhoods. If you think you can just dump guns in a city like DC or (my home) Philadelphia and think that every bumpkin is just going to remain calm - think again. Ever since the loosening of gun laws and the automatic weapons allowance, our cops have been dropping like flies (as have our ordinary citizens). Consider: From 1996 - 2006 NO cops killed. Since 2006 - 2008 I believe it has been at least 10. Our murder rate is through the roof. KENTUCKY may have gotten it right, but it remains to be seen whether other, COMPLETELY different venues will get it right. There's something to be said here for culture > law.