In what may be the least surprising turn of events this year, while holding a “rally” (it drew fewer than 100 people) to push for more votes in the Wisconsin recall election, Rev. Jesse Jackson diverted from his message of the need to push Republicans out of legislature to take potshots at the gun industry. Backed by the crowd, he raised the cry of “Guns out, jobs in!” a phrase likely to be repeated in the “march on gun shops” he promised for June 16th.
The sad truth for Jackson, however, is that attacking gun stores to get firearms off the street and thereby promote job growth is completely counter to reality. Right off the bat, law enforcement officials, the ones actually dealing with gun crime, disagree with him: a 2004 National Association of Chiefs of Police survey found 95% of US police commanders and sheriffs believed most criminals obtained their firearms illegally (i.e. not from the reputable gun stores Jackson is targeting). Of course, why take a police officer’s word for it when you can get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth? A survey of more than 18,000 state and federal prisoners by the US Department of Justice and National Security Institute revealed numbers that should shame any person ignorant enough to storm a perfectly legitimate, law abiding gun shop simply because Jackson said so. These are the sources from which prisoners obtained their guns (listed in percentages):
- Purchased from a retail store 8.3%
- Purchased at a pawn shop 3.8%
- Purchased at a flea market 1.0%
- Purchased at a gun show 0.7%
- Obtained from friends or family 39.6%
- Obtained on the street/illegal source 39.2%
Less than 9% of the firearms came from actual gun stores. Nine percent. And criminals obtained even slightly more weapons from relatives and friends (who likely should have known better) than blatantly illegal sources. Maybe Rev. Jackson should be marching into family living rooms instead.
See the video of the speech embedded below.
Funnily enough, this isn’t even the largest extent to which Jackson is wrong. In fact, the very core of his argument has been utterly disproved by some simple statistics from over the last four years. According to the National Sports Shooting Foundation (NSSF), from 2008 – 2011, the firearms industry grew direct jobs in their sector from 75,600 to 98,750, a growth of 30.6%, which entailed an increase of 66.5% in tax revenue (to $2,503,904,400) for the Federal government and 59.4% (to $2,071,203,430) for state governments. The industry isn’t basing these gains on part-time minimum wage jobs so often falsely championed as signs of improvement for the job market. They’re making careers:
“These include jobs in companies supplying goods and services to manufacturers, distributors and retailers, as well as those that depend on sales to workers in the firearms and ammunition industry. These are good jobs, paying an average of $46,858 in wages and benefits.”
In light of the current economic recession, those figures are not just heartening – they’re mind-blowing. The NSSF’s full press release can be found here.
Finally Jackson’s supposed logic for all this, noted only briefly in captured video from the “Power of the Vote” rally in Racine, WI on June 3rd, boils down to a prevalent fallacy: that gun shops are responsible for the “trail” of guns that make their way into criminals’ hands. This sort of logic inevitably (and generally immediately) devolves into blaming manufacturers and dealers for what consumers do with their products.
We have all heard it before, but it bears repetition: this is exactly the same as blaming car dealerships for drunk driving accidents. Every person has a choice in his or her actions, and that ultimate decision over how to use something like a firearm is completely out of the lawmakers’ control; it’s impossible to legislate human psychology. We can train, run safety drills, and check citizens’ backgrounds as much as we like, and it’s important that we do so, but we can never say with 100% certainty what will ultimately happen once they act on their own.
And here’s the thing: that’s life! Much as we like to disabuse ourselves of the notion, modern life has inherent risk and danger, and no amount of Brave New World-esque happiness-and-comfort-are-all-that-exist law-making is going to erase the pains and uncertainties, the physical realities of a person’s internal organs impacting their rib cage in a car crash, the emotional and psychological pitfalls that can lead, for seemingly no reason at all, to the formation of Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons, or yes, even the effect an inappropriately fired bullet has on the human body. It’s the feeling of powerlessness this fact engenders that leads to attacks and power grabs like Jackson’s that strike unfairly at the things they can take control of: these innocent manufactured goods and the hard-working Americans who create them for a living.
So, how is harassing gun store owners the right thing to do again? Oh, that’s right; this is just the sound of Mr. Jackson struggling futilely to remain relevant.
Photo: Eric Bridlers for U.S. Mission Geneva via the Wikimedia Commons