Justifiable anger over gun permit fee hike — unjustifiable reasoning

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Connecticut handgun owners are peeved, and even opponents of handgun ownership can understand why. Gov. Dannel Malloy wants to raise the price of pistol permits from $75 to $300. It’s a universal law that people don’t want to pay more than they believe they should. Paying more feels bad. All of us can sympathize.

But that’s where the sympathy should end. Raising the cost of pistol permits is not backdoor gun control. It does not erode the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. It does not infringe on the individual’s right to self-defense. What it does is raise revenues for a government in need of revenues. What it does is annoy, even enrage, people who hate giving the state more of their money.

It’s legit anger, but less-than-honorable people are trying to exploit it to fuel the feud between gun rights and gun safety. I say “less-than-honorable,” because they are blurring the line between fees and fear. They are not interested in protecting your rights. They are not worried about encroachments on your liberty. They are concerned about inflaming divisions and reaping the rewards.

There are two major complaints gaining momentum in Hartford right now. One is that higher fees exclude from handgun ownership those who can’t afford higher fees. Two is that excluding those who can’t afford higher fees actually puts their lives in jeopardy. If people can’t pay for a five-year $300 pistol permit, then poor people won’t have the means to protect themselves against criminals.

The first sounds convincing, but isn’t that convincing when you consider the amount permittees pay for handguns, background checks, gun club and shooting range memberships, and ammunition. These can be hundreds of dollars or more every year. Again, no one wants to pay more, but that’s not what opponents are saying. They are saying the increase will exclude the state’s poorest residents. I’m sure some residents will be excluded. I’m also sure most won’t.

But what about those left out? Isn’t Connecticut, in charging more, jeopardizing the lives of the poor, especially minorities who live in crime-ridden cities? How else are they to protect themselves?

That’s the second complaint advanced recently by a man named John Lott, the president of the Pennsylvania-based Crime Prevention Research Center, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization whose mission is to conduct “academic quality research” on gun laws, crime and public safety. His job appears to be writing op-eds for big regional newspapers and Fox News that chip away at state gun laws, even petty laws like the ones setting pistol permit fees.

Fact is, there is no constitutional or ideological basis for opposing Connecticut’s proposed increase on pistol permit fees. It just more expensive. No one likes to pay more. But Lott would have us believe the state is about to make a serious mistake and that Democrats are revealing their hypocrisy. In backing the measure, Lott argued, Democrats are putting poor people’s lives on the line.

Lott is not alone in making a huge assumption—that handguns are necessary for self-defense. Without them, they say, people are vulnerable. Take away handguns, in this case by hiking pistol permit fees, and you infringe on the individual’s right to life and liberty.

That sounds good, but take a closer look. If it were true that handguns are needed for self-defense, there must be evidence showing lots of people having been involved in “justifiable homicides.” In other words, shooting the bad guy in self defense.

According to the FBI, Connecticut saw zero justifiable homicides in 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2008-2011. There were five in 1995, two in 1996 and 1997, six in 1998, seven in 1999 and 2001, three in 2004 and 2005, and one in 2007. Over 17 years, 39 shooting deaths in self-defense. That’s out of 130,000 pistol permit holders.

The assumption strains credulity more when you widen the scope. The Violence Prevention Center examined 2012 data and released its findings in 2015. It found there were 259 justifiable homicides that year. That’s astounding given there are about 300 million guns in circulation, more than 5 million of which are handguns.

Bottom line: There’s little evidence backing up the claim that handguns are necessary for self-defense. So even if some people are excluded by higher fees, the state is not endangering their lives.

The evidence may be misleading. It only tells us when a good guy shot a bad guy, not when a good guy stops a bad guy from doing a bad thing as a result of being armed. But we’re not talking about deterrence. If it were true that handguns were key to an individual’s life and liberty, the evidence would suggest far more than it does.

I can’t speak to John Lott’s motivations, nor can I speak the motivations of anyone opposing Malloy’s proposed fee hike. What I can speak to is the argument. There is no valid complaint here other than the complaint from people who just don’t want to pay more. Tell your local representative how you feel. But don’t believe the hype from people whose livelihoods depend on your outrage.

 

What do you think?

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