A Referendum on Trust

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Last week, Missouri citizens became the first in the nation to vote on whether to permit licensed citizens to carry concealed handguns. By a narrow margin, they voted down the initiative, and left standing an 1875 law outlawing the concealed carry of arms. Nearly every one of Missouri's rural counties voted to support the change, but city residents were overwhelmingly against the initiative. The national media consider the outcome a defeat for the National Rifle Association, which spent about $3.8 million in an effort to get the referendum passed.

Thirty one states now permit law-abiding citizens to carry concealedhandguns for self-defense. Most of them are similar to Missouri's proposal,which would have required the county sheriff to issue a concealed handgunpermit to any Missouri citizen who is at least 21 years of age, undergoes abackground check, takes a 12 hour firearms course and satisfies variousother criteria. Because this was the first time that citizens could votedirectly for or against concealed weapons permits, however, the battle inMissouri was closely watched as a measure of the pulse of the electorate ongun control. Now that the dust has settled, the question is, "What does itall mean?"

Well, evidently, most of the Missouri voters who went to the pollsprefertaking their chances with criminals to trusting their neighbors withhandguns. In the end, Missouri citizens decided that the same people onwhose care, judgment, and sense of responsibility they rely every day toserve them food in restaurants, to watch their kids in day care centers, toassist them with their taxes, and to drive safely on their streets, couldnot be trusted to exercise sufficient care and responsibility with respectto carrying handguns in public.

Proponents of concealed carry laws argue that law-abiding citizensshouldbe able to carry a handgun because they have a right to defend themselvesand their loved ones. Statistics from the Department of Justice indicatethat 87 percent of all violent crime occurs outside the home. If a personhas to leave his firearm at home, he will be defenseless against criminalattack.

Opponents of the laws emphasize the dangers that might occur ifcitizensbegin carrying for self-defense. Fender benders and arguments where tempersflare might become occasions for murder if a gun is at hand. More guns inpublic might also result in more accidents. And inexperienced citizensmight use guns without any real justification.

Such gloomy predictions apparently played a large role in defeatingtheMissouri initiative. But the experience of states that have enacted suchlaws over the past 12 years shows that licensed citizens don't misuse theirweapons. People who acquire carry permits have very rarely gotten intotrouble with the law. As more and more states have enacted concealed carrylaws, this experience has repeated itself and the data gets stronger as eachyear passes.

Fear of the consequences that might occur if the carry law wereenactedwound up dominating the Missouri debate while few worried about what mightoccur if citizens had to rely solely upon the police for protection.

For example, there was little worry among opponents that if thelaw-abidingwere not armed no one in Missouri would be available to quickly stop amassacre of children on school grounds, as assistant high school principalJoel Myrick did in Pearl, Mississippi last year. Myrick retrieved a pistolfrom his pickup, confronted a juvenile predator and held him at gun pointuntil police arrived. The boy had already shot seven students and was onhis way to a neighboring elementary school.

One writer to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch summed upheropposition to the proposed law by stating that "the so-called right to carryinfringes on my right to feel safe." That simple statement captures theessence of this controversy. Unlike Joel Myrick, a growing number of us donot think of ourselves as co-producers of public order and safety -- readyto act upon our own initiative if circumstances so require.

Proponents of gun control see no good in guns because they disregardthegood deeds for which a handgun would be advisable. Worse, they may notbelieve in the capacity of people to perform such good deeds. If that isindeed the case, there's nothing but sand awaiting those mining for gold ingun control.