Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

What loose gun laws have done

Were it not for a handgun, Trayvon Martin would likely be alive today.

The teenager's death shines a spotlight on what has happened in an era when the gun industry has relentlessly pushed Americans to buy, carry and use handguns. Three campaigns promised protection from violent crime. Instead, all three led to more gun-related crimes, deaths and injuries.

First — in response to declining sales of hunting rifles and shotguns — the gun industry initiated a four-decade marketing campaign to persuade Americans to buy handguns for home protection. In 1960 only 27 percent of the annual addition to the American gun stock consisted of handguns; by 1994 handguns' share had doubled to 54 percent.

The industry's marketing effort emphasized the need to have a handgun instantly available when — inevitably — your home is invaded. Gun marketers circulated criminologist Gary Kleck's wildly inflated estimate that guns are used 2.4 million times per year for self-defense. Kleck's research was riddled with errors soon exposed by Harvard's David Hemenway. Subsequent studies showed that rather than providing protection, gun ownership greatly increased the risk of homicide and suicide in the home.

Second, in order to develop a market for easily concealable handguns — like the slim Kel-Tec PF-9 used by George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin — the industry pressured legislators to pass right-to-carry laws that forced authorities to issue concealed-weapons permits to practically anyone. Florida passed the first RTC law in 1987. Others soon followed, and by now all but 12 states have similar laws.

In 1997 research by John Lott and David Mustard concluded that RTC laws dramatically reduced violent crime. With the NRA's help, Lott's research became a media sensation. But by 1999, at least six studies had "found enough serious flaws in Lott's analysis to discount his findings completely," according to Hemenway. In fact, research showed that RTC laws increased aggravated assault.

But people were reluctant to carry guns if they could not legally use them. So the gun lobby strengthened self-defense laws that exonerated shooters. Since 1999, when Republicans won control of the Florida Legislature and the governor's office, the state has passed 38 laws expanding the right to conceal, discharge, sell or transfer firearms. The "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005, was just part of that effort. That and Florida's other expansive self-defense laws allow people to use deadly force if they are threatened, even when they could avoid doing so.

Soon after "stand your ground" passed, folks noticed that it was not so clear who was the criminal and who the victim. This was prescient of the Zimmerman-Martin conflict. In Zimmerman's trial the defense argued that he was the victim. Although the defense did not specifically invoke "stand your ground," the jury instructions included the law's broader protections for using deadly force in a self-defense situation.

Immediately after Florida's "stand your ground" law passed, the NRA and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council peddled it across the country. By 2012, 26 states had adopted laws more or less like Florida's. Sales of semiautomatic pistols skyrocketed. Between 2005 and 2010, the annual number of U.S.-manufactured consumer and law enforcement pistols surged 181.1 percent.

Not surprisingly, more Floridians died in gun homicides. Two years after "stand your ground" passed in Florida, the state's firearm homicide rate had suddenly risen 43 percent. By 2010, it was still 15.2 percent above the 2005 rate.

Two Texas A&M economists compared "stand your ground" states with other states and found that the laws did not affect burglary, robbery and aggravated assault, but "murder and non-negligent manslaughter are increased by 7 to 9 percent."

Beginning in 2001, years of progress in lowering America's firearm mortality rate ended. In the next decade almost 1 million Americans were shot, and that number is rising. Why? The three compounded gun industry campaigns.

Currently gun policy nationally and in most states is made by the gun industry. We have seen the consequences. The jury in the Zimmerman trial decided it did not have enough evidence to find him guilty under Florida's extremely shooter-friendly laws. But these laws increase tragic deaths like Trayvon Martin's. Until extra-liberal concealed-carry and shooter-friendly "stand your ground" (or "shoot-first") laws are overturned, a statement by Rabbi Abraham Heschel may be ironically appropriate: "Few are guilty, but all are responsible."

Griffin Dix taught cultural anthropology at Santa Clara University and was research director at "MacWEEK." After his 15-year-old son was accidentally shot and killed by a friend whose father kept a handgun loaded and unlocked for protection, he represented the Million Mom March chapters on the Brady Campaign Board. He is writing a book about his lawsuit against Beretta USA and is part of a coalition behind laws that reduced California's gun mortality rate.

What loose gun laws have done 07/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 12:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  2. Minors also a training ground for umpires with big-league dreams

    The Heater

    Umpire Tom Fornarola, 23, left, and Taylor Payne, 24, facing, talk before the start of the Gulf Coast League game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla. on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.
  3. In Florida, nation's only lightning center closes after DARPA cuts funding (w/video)


    University of Florida professor Martin Uman usually spends much of this summer at an old Army base about an hour northeast of Gainesville, shooting rockets at thunderclouds, then measuring the bright flashes of lightning that followed.

    Rocket-and-wire triggered lightning at the University of Florida's International Center for Lightning Research and Testing, which recently lost federal funding. A rocket trailing a grounded wire is launched toward an active thunderstorm at the ICLRT. One launch is from a tower, one from ground. When the wire is about as high as the Empire State Building, lightning is induced to strike the top of the wire, much as it strikes tall objects like the ESB. Interestingly, the cloud charge source is about 3 miles high, so a 300 yard-long wire can cause a 3 mile or more long lightning.  After that, there are several normal tortuous strokes ( downward leaders from the cloud charge/upward return strokes) which can be seen as the wind blows the individual strokes to the right. The time between strokes is about 50 thousands of a second. Between some strokes, continuing current can be seen. Continuing current is what generally starts forest fires. [Photo by Dr. Dustin Hill]
  4. Editorial: Reasonable clarity on gambling in Florida


    Gambling expansion strategies — and misfires — are nearly an annual ritual in Florida. There were the eight counties that voted to allow slot machines but were blocked by the Florida Supreme Court. There was the governor's $3 billion deal with the Seminole Tribe in 2015 that was never approved by the …

    Gov. Rick Scott agreed to a much simpler deal with the Seminole Tribe that embraces the status quo instead of expansion. And that’s a good thing.
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]