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Moms make too much of guns


PITTSBURGH - Mother's Day has come and gone, and with it the supposition the Million Mom March (MMM) will become a significant political force.

A year ago, organizers assembled a huge crowd on the mall in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate for more gun control laws. The moms claimed a turnout of 750,000, and most media estimates put the crowd at half a million or more.

Crowds were easier to count this year. CNN estimated the turnout for the rally in the nation's capital at about 100.

MMM has had to lay off 30 of its 35 paid employees and has been evicted from its offices in San Francisco, which, apparently, it had obtained under false pretenses.

One reason why MMM is falling on hard times is simply that it has been a while since there was a gun tragedy that has galvanized the nation's attention.

Last year, the memory of the massacre at Columbine High School in suburban Denver was still fresh. Now it's ancient hist- ory.

But Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia are three more important reasons. Had Al Gore carried Bill Clinton's home state, his own home state or what arguably has been the most reliable Democratic state in the country, he'd had been president. But Mr. Gore lost all three.

Professionals in both parties think his position on gun control was the reason why.

Democrats have decided that whatever gains their advocacy of gun control gives them among normally Republican-leaning women in the suburbs is more than offset by losses among normally Democratic-leaning men in rural areas. So gun control has pretty much dropped off their radar.

The hottest issue with regard to guns this year has been expanding the right of law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for their own protection.

On April 3, New Mexico became the 33rd state to pass a "right to carry" law. Minnesota may become the 34th, if Gov. Jesse Ventura gets his way.

The rapid expansion of states with "right to carry" laws (only seven had them in 1986), and of the lawful private ownership of firearms -- 70 million Americans now own more than 250 million guns - has coincided with a substantial decline in violent crime. The crime rate has declined every year since 1991.

There are a lot of reasons why rates of violent crime have been falling. An aging population, maturation of crack cocaine markets and longer prison terms for violent offenders are among them. But one of the most important reasons, say researchers John Lott and Gary Kleck, has been "right to carry" laws.

Mr. Lott, a professor at Yale University, noted that violent crime has fallen faster in states with concealed carry laws than in states without them. He estimated that if every state had concealed carry laws, there'd have been 500 fewer murders in the past decade.

Mr. Kleck, a professor at Florida State University, said his research indicates firearms are used for self-protection about 2.5 million times a year. "Robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or who did not resist at all," he said.

Because the facts aren't in their favor, gun control advocates tend to fudge them. On their Web site, the Million Mom Marchers honor "the memory of the 10 children who die every single day from gunfire in America."

According to the National Safety Council, gun accidents account for less than 1 percent of all accidental deaths, and the absolute number of accidental deaths from guns is at its lowest since records have been kept.

In 1997, 142 children 14 years or younger were killed in gun accidents, compared with 185 who choked, 965 who drowned, and 2,900 who were killed in car crashes.

The moms get their number by counting everyone up to age 20 as a "child," and lumping together murders, suicides and accidents. This is disingenuous. But thanks to Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia, even Democrats these days are more likely to listen to the reasoned voices of Mr. Lott and Mr. Kleck than to the overheated claims of the Million Mom Marchers.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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