Talking Gun Control on Fox Chicago Sunday

Talking Gun Control on Fox Chicago Sunday
January 27, 2013

Steve Stanek

Steve Stanek (sstanek@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

Rarely do I feel better after speaking with a gun control advocate than I do today. (See the clip below.)

I have just returned from taping a segment of Fox Chicago Sunday, where my “opponent” in the way-too-brief discussion of gun control was Annette Holt, whose 16-year-old son Blair was shot dead in 2007 by a teenaged Gangster Disciple who was trying to kill another gangbanger on a CTA bus. Blair put himself between the shooter and friends he was with. The young killer was eventually sentenced to 100 years in prison.

The segment with Ms. Holt and me ran only four minutes, barely enough time to make a point, much less expand on one when the time is occupied by two guests and two interviewers. I’ve spent my adult life writing articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals, speeches for corporate executives, and such. I think in expository narrative terms, not in television sound bites.

I can barely remember what I said during the segment but know I failed to say what I wanted to say. Ms. Holt wanted to say more, too.

If only Fox’s WFLD-TV could have taped the talk she and I had outside the studio after finishing the segment! What a great lady she is. And how much more viewers would have learned.

They’d have learned both of Ms. Holt’s parents have died in the nearly six years since their grandson’s murder. She blames their deaths on grief.

They’d have learned she has sometimes encountered flesh-and-blood reminders of her only child’s death. She’s done it as part of her job as a Chicago firefighter and paramedic, answering 911 calls to help shooting victims. Most of them are gangbangers or (like her son) unintended victims of gangbangers, and some of them are about the age her son was when he died.

She did not tell me these things with anger or rancor or even sentimentality. She told me because this is the way it is.

After Ms. Holt told me about the guns situation where she lives – a city of 2.7 million persons that in 2012 had more than 500 murders, most of them committed with firearms even though the city has some of the nation’s harshest gun laws and no gun stores or shooting ranges -- I told her about the guns situation where I live.

Viewers would have learned it’s 60 miles from my house to the WFLD-TV studios, a distance that in some sense is about from here to the moon. My county of 308,000 persons has at least 14 stores that sell guns, ammo or both, including four in my hometown of 27,000 persons. There are also at least three public shooting ranges, two private shooting ranges, and two hunt clubs in the county.

There were no firearms-related murders in my county last year. Adjusted for population, there’d have been almost 50 to match what happens in Chicago. I told Ms. Holt we go multiple years at a time in my county with no firearms-related murders. The last firearms-related murder in my hometown, with its multiple gun stores and shooting ranges, happened 12 years ago.

Viewers would have learned I do not describe myself as pro-gun. When I look at the crime issue I see cars used in drive-by shootings. I see them used in murders, rapes, kidnappings, drug smuggling, bank robberies, all kinds of serious crimes. That kid in Connecticut didn't just stroll down a sidewalk carrying an AR-15 rifle, two pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammo. He packed them in a car and drove to that school. That car was an essential element of his crime. Even though some people use cars to commit crimes, I don’t believe cars should be banned. This does not make me “pro-car.”

I believe the drug war should be ended. The violence that killed Ms. Holt’s son and most of the people in Chicago happens because of gangs, and gangs exist because of the drug war. This does not make me “pro-drugs.”

It makes me anti-laws and regulations that punish peaceful people, fail to deliver the promised benefits, and make things worse. This is what most gun control laws do.

I told Ms. Holt I had crime stats from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports  that I wanted to deliver during the interview but couldn’t. Here they are:

  • In 2011 (2012 data are still preliminary and subject to change), 323 persons were murdered with rifles. Keep that 323 in mind as you listen to the demands to ban “assault rifles,” and as you read these next FBI numbers:
  • “Knives or cutting instruments” accounted for 1,694 murders;
  • “Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)” accounted for 496 murders;
  • “Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)” accounted for 728 murders.

I also had data showing as bad as the 506 murders in Chicago in 2012 were, the city has been far more bloody. Nine hundred seventy persons were murdered in Chicago in 1974, the city’s record. Nine hundred forty-three were murdered there in 1992. Since 1992 in the city and nationally – with small blips – the rates of violent crime have plunged. Violent crime rates are at 50-year lows and less than half what they were in much of the 1970s and 1980s, after the drug war was launched, and in the 1920s and early 1930s, when alcohol Prohibition was in force, giving rise to violent bootleggers, Al Capone and organized crime. I also did not get to that in the interview.

Ms. Holt and I were invited on the show by Mike Flannery, an outstanding television reporter whom I have watched many years. His co-host was Darlene Hill, who’s fairly new to the show.

Flannery introduced me by saying I believe more guns equals less crime, and I do not believe that. Nor do I believe fewer guns equals less crime. Many factors aside from guns matter. The introduction threw me off balance and I stayed that way the whole four minutes.

I had no time to explain my belief: Crime rates have gone up and down irrespective of gun laws and the number of guns in private hands. Criminologists have theories to explain these swings but no one knows for sure why they happen. I think it’s clear the war on alcohol before World War One, and the war on drugs the government has been fighting and losing since the early 1970s, have been responsible for much violence. But there are causes outside alcohol and drug prohibitions.

I certainly see no problem with peaceful people having as many guns (and “high-capacity” magazines) as they want. My reading of crime statistics shows there is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship between the number of guns and the amount of crime. It’s possible we could have almost no guns and a surge in crime if guns remain in the hands of gang members and unaffiliated criminals, as they surely would.

The one thing I clearly remember about the interview is that Flannery and Hill gave me the last word and I blew it. Ms. Holt had said most people lack the skills to protect themselves with guns, and I pointed out one of my pistol club members recently shot a “police pistol competition” match and won it even though he’s not a cop. Who cares?

Here’s what I should have ended with and what I had planned to start with until being thrown off balance by Flannery’s introduction:

“There was less violent crime in this country in the 1950s, before background checks, waiting periods or age limits to buy firearms, and before licensing of gun dealers and the existence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If easy access to guns is a major cause of violence, why was there less violence in those days?”

I’ve never heard a good answer to that question. I was going to ask it of Ms. Holt as we talked outside the studio but somehow couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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Steve Stanek

Steve Stanek (sstanek@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)