Last week the mega-chain Target joined Chipotle and Starbucks in making their stores places where customers have a good chance of getting gunned down. At least this is what the NRA believes will happen now that the company’s CEO announced that Target shoppers should leave their guns at home. Everyone remembers the NRA’s reaction after Sandy Hook, namely, that schools that were gun-free zones invited kooks like Adam Lanza to walk in and start blasting away. But the notion that public space is safer if people don’t walk around with guns seems to be spreading and it’s interesting that the NRA’s response so far to Target’s new policy has been no response at all.
The gun industry is not only encountering some push-back to its notion of guns as being the best way for citizens to protect themselves against crime; they can’t even get their facts straight about whether there’s any connection between gun ownership and criminal activity at all. The NSSF just posted a video which announces that “gun crimes have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years,” except the graphic that accompanies this statement shows that the entire decline took place between 1993 and 2000, which was before Obama went into the White House and gun sales soared.
Despite what John Lott says, there’s no proof that higher levels of gun violence occur in gun-free zones. And the evidence that protecting yourself with a gun may actually be less safe than using other protective methods to thwart a criminal attack – yelling, punching, running away – comes from, of all people, a scholar named Gary Kleck who first “discovered” that arming ourselves made us better able to stop crime. Kleck published a study in 1995 which, based on answers collected from interviews with 213 respondents, claimed that people used guns to prevent more than 2 million crimes from being committed each year. But in 1994 he submitted a report to the Department of Justice in which he found that defensive methods other than guns actually resulted in fewer injuries from criminal attacks. He didn’t mention these findings when he began touting the benefits of armed resistance the following year.
And neither did the NRA. Ever since the mid-1990’s the gun lobby has been tirelessly beating the drums for expanding concealed carry, as well as for diminishing the list of locations where guns cannot be found. Their latest victory was Georgia, where a new law took effect July 1 which expands the right to carry a gun in locations that serve alcohol, houses of worship and government facilities, as long as the owners of the affected properties don’t object.
The campaign to promote carrying guns in public places took a big step backwards, however, with the decision by Target to ask gun-toting shoppers to stay out of their stores. The announcement was worded in a way that did not absolutely ban concealed-carry in states which, unlike Georgia, don’t give property-owners the right to restrict the presence of guns. But when Target said that guns are at odds with the “family-friendly” atmosphere they try to maintain, they weren’t just sending a message to gun owners, they were sending a clear message to the gun lobby as well.
Despite twenty years of unending appeals to fears of crime and the utility of owning guns, the NRA and its allies have failed to convince a majority of Americans that walking into a public place with a gun in your pocket is the smart thing to do. What they have done is to provoke a grass-roots backlash organized and funded by a guy with lots of bucks whose efforts to get Americans behind the notion of less guns equals more safety may just begin to pay off.