Gun Control: Dr. Tim Wheeler, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership|
Monday, March 20, 2000; 11 a.m. EST
As the ongoing fight over gun control between the Clinton administration and the National Rifle Association has intensified during the past week, both sides accused the other of being out of line. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre accused President Clinton and Vice President Gore for exploiting gun violence for political gain, and they vowed to battle the NRA's influence. All sides weighed in on gun owners' rights, public health issues and the violence in American culture.
Dr. Tim Wheeler is the director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank in Claremont, Calif. The group, which holds that gun-control arguments made in the name of public health misrepresent the reality of gun violence – criminals misuse guns, not law-abiding citizens. Wheeler is a surgeon based in Southern California, and his organization, founded in 1994, represents more than 1,000 doctors and health care professionals nationwide. Wheeler joined "Free Media" to talk about gun control, public health and the work of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership on Monday, March 20. The transcript follows:
Dr. Tim Wheeler
Free Media: Good morning, Dr. Wheeler, and welcome. Tell us a little bit about Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. As a surgeon, you have likely seen many cases involving gun violence. Why do you think the traditional approach to violence as a public health issue is misguided?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Because the so-called public health approach to violence is really a political movement disguised as medical concern over our health. Public health anti-gun activists actually conceal or distort the truth to push their political agenda.
It's the mission of DRGO to get the truth out.
Appleton, Wis.: I've heard concern expressed that private citizens who are legally licensed to carry concealed handguns and do so are setting a bad example for their children. What do you think?
Additionally, I've heard that it is "poor public policy" for a (state) government to permit its citizens to carry concealed handguns to defend themselves. Please comment. Thank you.
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I'm not sure why anyone would say it's "poor public policy" to issue self defense handgun permits to qualified citizens. Both the experience of law enforcement and the best available science confirm that when states do that, violent crimes drop.
A more trenchant question is why the public health community has been silent about the phenomenal success of handgun carry permit laws.
Stilwell, Kan.: The Second Amendment was added to the Constitution mainly to give the people an ultimate resource to deal with a tyrannical government. However, now it seems that the risk to the individual is greater from the misuse of firearms by criminals, maniacs, and a general lack of personal and public responsibility by the populace as a whole regarding firearms than that due to what might occur with a tyrant in office. Should the Second Amendment be rescinded? At least, if it were, we could pass some measure of gun control legislation that wouldn't violate the Constitution. As it is now, we are tinkering around with the Second Amendment, thereby setting precedence for violating the premises of other parts of the Constitution.
Dr. Tim Wheeler: The Second Amendment is intended to protect law-abiding citizens from tyranny, whether it be from an overbearing government or a criminal who wants to use you for his purposes.
There is a mechanism in the Constitution for amending or deleting the Second Amendment, and if the people really think human nature has changed that much in 200 years, they are free to implement that mechanism.
Until then, we should not get cute with a "living" Second Amendment.
Baltimore, Md.: How do you think the truth about guns has been concealed or manipulated?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I just gave an example of the public health anti-self defense movement ignoring the success of handgun carry laws. Here's another.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Handgun Control, Inc. put out a firearm safety pamphlet claiming that every 2 hours a child is killed with a gun. That's 4,380 kids in a year.
But the National Safety Council put the number for ALL child firearm deaths at 784 41 years and under. That's including homicides, suicides, accidents, and "other."
The AAP inflated the number by a factor of 20. How do they justify that?
Free Media: Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership has filed friend of the court briefs in several Second Amendment cases. Can you talk about which cases, and why the organization chose to get involved?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: We are amici with the Independent Women's Forum on the Emerson case, appealed to the U.S. Circuit court.
The Emerson decision is the first in a U.S. District Court that clearly upholds the individual right to keep and bear arms affirmed in the Second Amendment. The decision is a very scholarly outline of the history of the amendment, showing there is no doubt what the framers thought or what they intended the Second Amendment to mean.
Mt. Rainier, Md.: Sir, what constitutes 'responsible' in your terms for a gun owner? And how do you think we should respond to owners who give us right to question their responsibility that is, people who are guilty of physical abuse or threats of violence?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Responsible means the use of any firearm for any lawful purpose. Most of America's 80 million gun owners fall in this category. Fewer than 1 percent of America's guns will ever be used in a crime. Responsible gun owners should be allowed to keep and bear arms without being harassed.
The opposite of responsible is criminal or reckless. People who misuse guns in this way should not have guns.
It really is quite simple.
Washington, D.C.: While I agree with you that most people handle their guns responsibly my father had handguns and locked them away, separate from the ammunition what about the statistics that show accidents to be one of the biggest causes of gun-related injuries and death? And what about situations where there's domestic violence that's escalated with guns?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Did you know that fatal firearm accidents have been steadily dropping for the last 70 years? (National Safety Council). This has happened while the U.S. population has doubled and ownership and carrying of firearms has increased.
Domestic violence escalated with guns? Do you mean a chronically abusive boyfriend or husband finally killing a woman with a gun? Or the woman using a firearm to defend herself?
These are two different situations. Lumping them both as "domestic violence" obscures the crucial issue.
Arlington, Va.: Does the "responsible" gun ownership you talk about include gun safety and training classes?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: It certainly can. I recommend such classes. The problem is when they are mandated by government not to improve safety but to pose yet another hurdle to lawful citizens owning or carrying guns. That happens a lot.
Criminals, by the way, are subject to no such inconveniences as having to demonstrate their safety knowledge to a government agency.
Mt. Rainier, Md.: Dr. Wheeler, I can see why a criminal might be in a hurry to have a weapon. I don't understand why a law-abiding citizen using a rifle for hunting or a gun for sport-shooting or collecting should be unwilling to wait for 72 hours to verify that he can legally buy a weapon. Moreover, I cannot understand why it should be legal for sellers at a gun fair to be able to sell to any Tom, Dick, or Harry, no questions asked. If we are asking the ATF and local police to close the loopholes that make illegal gun ownership possible, it seems a logical first step to ensure that EVERY weapon is sold only to verified legal buyers.
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Most people who want a gun in a hurry need it for self protection, which is of course the central issue here.
I suggest you read the Independent Women's Forum and DRGO's amicus brief in the Emerson case. That will tell you what has happened to a lot of women who had to wait 72 hours to get a handgun to protect themselves from a homicidal man.
Free Media: The Independent Women's Forum Web site contains an overview of the Emerson case, which was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, as well as the brief outlining the case.
Vienna, Va.: Dr. Wheeler,
Thank you for your time. I was at a town hall discussion which quickly divided over gun control, but raised a good question. What do you say to those who think only the army (or "militia") should have guns, and use the 2nd Amendment as their support?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I would say they might actually look at what the framers of the Constitution wrote. Look at the ratification debates in the states.
Legal scholarship has now pretty much settled on what has come to be known as the Standard Model for interpreting the Second Amendment. That is, the amendment affirms an individual right to have guns, not some state's right.
Free Media: FYI, here is a complete listing of the amendments to the Constitution, as found on the FindLaw Web site.
Vienna, Va.: The Clinton Administration is acting horrified that the NRA has accused them of complicity in America's gun violence, but isn't that exactly the same kind of rhetoric that the Clintons and their friends have been leveling at the NRA for years? It seems to me that the gun violence problem is the result of this administration's lack of will to punish the guilty in favor of punishing the innocent.
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I think you're right. For example, on the Today show right after the first-grader shooting in Michigan, Clinton said "They are basically against anything that requires anybody to do anything as a member of society that helps to make it safer."
In other words, he blamed America's gun owners for that horrible incident. And I didn't see any media outrage about his inflammatory and unfair accusation.
Laurel, Md.: Isn't the blurb in the intro "criminals misuse guns, not law-abiding citizens" essentially a tautology?
Within the context of the Second Amendment, are there any sensible steps that CAN be taken to keep some reasonable portion of guns out of the hands of criminals BEFORE they they are used in crimes?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I believe there is something that can be done. The typical murderer already has four felony arrests, not counting his juvenile offenses.
What the NRA is saying is don't give these highly aberrant and dangerous predators a second chance. Don't allow THEM to have guns, and you will essentially take care of the crime problem. Especially if you don't take away guns from the good guys.
Washington, D.C.: One of the gun "reforms" that seems to get gun owners up in arms is the idea of registration and licensing. First of all, the courts have not ruled definitively that that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a gun. But even if that were a specific right, there is no specific right to own one anonymously. I have to get a license and register my car, I have to get a license to own a dog even to catch a fish. What's the big deal about registering to own a gun? How does that take away someone's right to own?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Registration and licensing have traditionally been used as a way to identify and confiscate guns. It happened in New York, in England, and in Australia.
This is not just paranoia. Right now in California the Attorney General is consfiscating guns that were dutifully registered by their then-lawful owners. (Don't think that the criminals registered theirs).
This is a very real concern of regular gun owners, and they have good reason to be concerned.
Free Media: On Friday, Smith & Wesson agreed to install child safety locks on guns in exchange for governments federal, state and local dropping their lawsuits against the gun industry. What do you think of this development? Should other gun makers follow suit? In your opinion, would such measures cut down on the number of gun-related violence particularly accidents in the home?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: Smith and Wesson has been giving out free trigger locks with each handgun they make for over two years.
The deal they cut with the government is a capitulation to the overwhelming power of the government...minus the inconvenience (for the administration) of due process.
Does Smith and Wesson think that HUD officials and the other folks who beat them into this deal will like them any better now? There will be more demands, more legal threats. If the firearm industry capitulates, they will learn the strategic value of appeasement. They will go out of business.
Chicago, Ill.: So is it your position that any citizen even law-abiding should be able to own any gun he or she wants to buy? Including semi-automatic, etc.? Is it OK if they've become certified in gun safety classes? Is that really what we're talking about in terms of gun ownership? I've taken a class, so now I should be able to own an Uzi?
Dr. Tim Wheeler: As long as you're a law-abiding citizen the answer to your questions are yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Rockville, Md.: Dr. Wheeler,
I am shocked that a doctor is on the wrong side of the gun debate. When the Second Amendment was enacted, there was far greater need for personal protection than there is now. Do you really believe responsible people should go out and buy guns for so-called "personal protection," when the need for individuals to be so armed is often overstated? Admit it, the Second Amendment as is often cited by gun lovers is truly a camouflage.
Dr. Tim Wheeler: I say look at history. We just finished the bloodiest century in the history of humankind, with the worst large-scale tyranny ever. Can you really say we are safer in the world than we were in the Founders' time?
And I say look at the science. The best criminology science we have had for over 20 years says that firearms in the hands of good people save lives, prevent injury, and protect property by defending against violent crime.
Let's try to look beyond emotional diatribes and look at the facts.
Free Media: That was our last question today for Dr. Tim Wheeler, director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. Thanks to Dr. Wheeler, and to everyone who joined us today.
We're talking about guns all week on "Free Media." Please feel free to send in your questions early. Joe Sudbay, a spokesman for Handgun Control, Inc., will join us Wednesday at noon EST to talk about gun laws and the Smith & Wesson agreement. Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) will be online on Thursday at noon EST to talk about his legislation to take the Project Exile program national. In addition, feel free to direct your questions about the Second Amendment and the courts and the Emerson case to Post Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic in "Holding Court" on Friday at 11 a.m. EST.
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