September 28th, 2007

An Open Letter to Milwaukee's Shepherd Express and Joel McNally

This is my response to an editorial column that ran in our local weekly paper, the "Shepherd Express," on September 13, 2007. The full text of the column can be found here:

A bit of background: Joel McNally, the writer of the column, is very anti-gun, with reason. Some years ago, he and his family endured a terrifying incident wherein they were held up at gunpoint in their own driveway. Fortunately,they survived without physical harm. Unfortunately, McNally has extrapolated his own traumatic feelings of helplessness and fear into a belief that citizens are essentially helpless at the hands of criminals and it's foolish to think of anything in the line of self-defense other than surrender. He has also permitted himself to parrot the myths that permitting concealed carry in Wisconsin would somehow result in increased street violence, despite manifold evidence to the contrary.

I hold no brief for Sheriff Clarke. I think he is a loose cannon who had done considerable harm to the Milwaukee County Sherrif's Department with his rash, intemperate and grandiose policies. His change of mind on the concealed carry issue may be coming to the right side, but isn't a great deal of help to the cause.

The "Shepherd Express" runs a very small letters to the editor column and have not run this or any of the other letters I have written in response to McNally's past columns. However, I was pleased with the way this letter turned out, so I am posting it here in my own forum. Comments are welcome.

"As a responsible gun owner and recreational shooter, I take exception to Joel McNally’s column in the September 13th issue (“Guns A-Blazing”). While I have every sympathy for the gun-related trauma suffered by Mr. McNally and his family in the past, his vehement opposition to firearms has overwhelmed rational argument.

These are facts: Forty-three states have some variety of concealed carry law. The carnivals of carnage or OK Corral style shootouts envisioned by Mr. McNally and other critics involving licensed firearm owners have never, ever, happened anywhere in the US. It is very rare for a licensed firearm carrier to be involved in any type of crime. Remember, we are talking about people who are sufficiently law-abiding that, even though they may feel a need to go armed, will not do so as long as it is against the law. Are the citizens of Wisconsin any less sensible, careful, or conscientious than the citizens of Florida or Texas?

Historically, where licensure is available, less than one-half of one percent of the potentially eligible persons take out permits: hardly a “flood,” and probably far fewer people than are now going armed illegally.

Statistically, there is no increase in criminal gun violence in those states that have concealed carry. It is debatable whether or not there is any measurable decrease in crime, however, there are some interesting facts to be gleaned from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2005. In that year, there were 143 justifiable homicides by firearm reported. These are cases in which a citizen lawfully killed a felon who presented an immediate danger to life and limb. Unfortunately, that’s a small figure compared to the unlawful homicides by firearm reported, but there are still 143 people alive and whole today who otherwise would not be, because they were able to defend themselves. Statistics do not collect the number of incidents in which criminals were deterred, subdued, or driven off by the presence of a firearm, but we know such incidents happen everyday. It is a myth that even an armed citizen is helpless in the face of a criminal assault.

I am not a fan of Sheriff Clarke, but he is right in one thing: the police cannot prevent crime. Police presence can deter crime, police work can apprehend criminals, but the police cannot be everywhere. If you are attacked and the police fail to rescue you, you cannot sue them for that failure. The citizen is responsible for his or her own safety and security. Those who are able and choose to go legally armed may not, in fact, do much to improve their own or the community’s security, but everything we know shows that it DOES NO HARM, and, if it increases that individual’s feeling of security, isn’t that a positive? “Freedom from fear” used to be considered one of our great goals before government and the press found fear-mongering to be a more profitable pursuit. Permitting concealed carry regrettably will not reduce Mr. McNally’s fears, but if it will reduce those of his neighbors, who is he to say them nay?"

Gregory G.H. Rihn