The Bill of Rights outlines many, but not all, of our rights. And as important as these rights are, the Fifth Amendment explains that these rights and the basic rights of life, liberty, and property may be denied us through due process of law. One of the controversial rights debated by many people in this country is the right to bear arms. Based on the intent of the original framers of the Constitution, this is an individual right, but regardless of what you think of the Second Amendment, there are some restrictions placed on this right.
Project Safe Neighborhoods is a website that outlines one of the government’s responses to gun crime. I firmly believe that we have the right to peacefully possess firearms for our own enjoyment and protection, but people do not have the right to use firearms to intimidate or assault others in a criminal way, and the government agrees with me. Federal prosecutors are ready and willing to bring armed lawbreakers before federal court and put these lawbreakers away if convicted. If these miscreants are convicted, they are looking at years in jail with no chance for parole, and if they have three or more prior violent felony or serious drug offense convictions, they face a minimum of 15 years in prison without parole.
Here is a list of people who are prohibited from possessing any kind of gun or ammunition, as outlined on the Project Safe Neighborhoods site:
- Convicted felons (convicted at state or federal level)
- Fugitives from justice (interstate flight to avoid prosecution or testimony)
- Drug users or addicts
- Aliens in the U.S. illegally or on temporary status
- Mental defectives or persons committed to mental institutions
- People who have formally given up their U.S. citizenship
- People who have been dishonorably discharged from the armed services
- People involved in committing domestic violence
- Anyone subject to a court order (protective order) forbidding him or her from stalking, harassing, or threatening an intimate partner or that partner’s child
- Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving violence or a threat with a deadly weapon if the convicted person was the victim’s current or former spouse, live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, parent, or guardian
Utah has been active in cracking down on people using guns in the commission of a crime. In an article published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Matt Canham outlines how these laws and their enforcement have affected the State of Utah and its people. 25-year-old Wally Martinez was sentenced to 65 years in jail without parole for the armed robbery of a credit union, shoe store, and pizza place. His words to his mother after hearing his sentence were “Mom, they killed me.” While that sounds dramatic, it is not true. Wally brought this sentence upon his own head by breaking the law with the use of a firearm. The responsible party for this long jail time is Wally himself. Yes, jail time will be long and harsh, and he will most likely die there unless he lives past the age of 90. While I do feel sorry for him, I feel better knowing that a thug who proved three times that he was a threat and danger to the people of Utah is now off the street.
Wally’s case and his mother’s words are being used in radio ads recorded for Project Safe Neighborhoods. Hopefully people who are tempted to break the law with firearms will think twice if they realize just how hard the government will land on them. And Utah will. In 2003, Utah processed 400 indictments, up from 300 the year before. Utah is handling this differently than other states because the entire state of Utah is involved, rather than just a major city or two. People may not yet know the seriousness of breaking these laws, but steps are being taken to change that. The U.S. Attorney for Utah, Paul Warner, appears in a video that is shown to felons leaving prison. “I’m a prosecutor. I’m not a social worker, and as such, if you violate federal gun laws, you will be prosecuted. There will be no leniency,” he says. If Benjamin Jorgensen had paid attention on August 12th, 2003, he could have avoided being picked up two days later for possession of a handgun. He now faces 10 more years in prison for this act. Dumb, Ben. Real dumb.
Incarcerating repeat offenders like Wally and Benjamin lowers the crime rate in an area by the simple act of removing from the population the people who habitually break the law. But there is another factor that can dramatically drop crime in an area: an armed populace. John Lott, Jr., author of the books More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias against Guns, shows that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens have a dramatic effect on lowering crime. But you won’t hear this information on the nightly news.
In an article published on the Fox News website, Lott demonstrated the silence coming from news organizations about lawful use of firearms in the prevention of crimes. He explained how, in 2001, “the three major television networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — ran 190,000 words’ worth of gun-crime stories on their morning and evening national news broadcasts. But they ran not a single story mentioning a private citizen using a gun to stop a crime.” Were there no instances of a law-abiding citizen stopping a crime with a firearm during 2001? In newspapers, this same bias is also evident: The New York Times ran 50,745 words about gun crimes compared to only one 163-word story about “a retired police officer who used his gun to stop a robbery.” In USA Today, it was 5,660 words about gun crimes and zero words about lawful citizen use.
Could it be that there really aren’t that many defensive uses for guns? I strongly doubt that is the case. I remember reading the NRA monthly magazine outlining self-defensive use of guns. And this site catalogs some of these same occurrences. Lott points out that it is most likely the nature of the news. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a common phrase that typifies news reporting. Death, crime, and accidents are much more interesting to reporters than news of good things happening, or bad things being prevented from happening.
Basically, good news is no news. This is why there is so much more reporting on the illegal use of firearms over the legal, lawful use of firearms. But it is the latter use that has a greater effect on our society, and an effect for good. As Robert Heinlein wrote, “An armed society is a polite society.” This is self-evident; anyone who wasn’t polite wouldn’t last long. And many would-be muggers, rapists, burglars, and murderers have found this out to their detriment.