Tucson First City to See Free Gun Giveaway Program…Despite Violent Crime Hitting 13-Year Low
In the national debate on gun control spurred by the spate of mass shootings in 2012, including the Newtown Massacre, some gun advocates argue that the solution to violent crime is more guns. Although violent crime has been steadily decreasing for about 20 years, many Americans erroneously believe the situation is getting worse. As fear of crime grows, support for ever more extreme “anti-crime” measures increases as well, as a recently announced shotgun giveaway program in Tucson, Arizona, shows.
A medium size city of 520,116 with a modest crime rate that recently dropped to a 13-year low, Tucson seems an unlikely target for the nonprofit Armed Citizen Project (ACP), which is running a national campaign to give shotguns to single women and homeowners in neighborhoods with “high” crime rates. Tucson—which averages about 50 homicides a year—was the scene of the horrific failed assassination attempt on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) in January 2011 that left Giffords severely wounded and killed six others.
“If you are not willing to protect the citizens of Tucson, someone is going to do it, why not me? Why not have armed citizens protecting themselves,” said Shaun McClusky, a Tucson realtor and failed political candidate who intends to start the shotgun giveaway by May. Having raised about $12,500 to fund the program—which for $400 per person will provide a shotgun, training and trigger locks—McClusky hopes to eventually arm entire neighborhoods.
Although Tucson police refused to comment on the gun program, Vice Mayor Regina Romero pushed back against the notion that Tucson is a high crime city. “Just like any other city in Arizona and in the nation we have our issues, but it is not crime-ridden. I would never say you have to carry a gun or you have to be afraid for your life.”
Largely because the National Rifle Association (NRA) got Congress in 1996 to ban federal funding on research about gun violence, reliable scientific data on how widespread gun ownership affects rates of crime and death is hard to find. Not surprisingly, some research shows that more guns result in more suicides and accidental deaths, while other studies show criminals are wary of gun owners.
“People don't want to confront an armed person at home,” explains Prof. Garen J. Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “But, separately, there is solid evidence that in communities with higher rates of gun ownership, burglary rates are up, not down, and that's because guns are hot loot.” Wintemute also noted that domestic violence tends to rise with gun ownership.
While there is no doubt that the guns will be welcomed by some in Tucson, resistance is likely as well, including from residents of the supposedly “high crime” areas of the city. Cindy Ayala, who is president of the neighborhood association in the working class neighborhood of Pueblo Gardens, rejects the spending priorities behind the gun giveaway. “We could take that $400 per shotgun and give it to these people so they could go buy groceries, pay rent, pay their utility bills, something useful. Vigilantism is not the answer.”
But Kyle Coplen, the 29-year-old graduate student who founded ACP, is confident of the fear factor. “It is our hypothesis that criminals have no desire to die in your hallway. We want to use that fear.” His goal is to pour hundreds of shotguns into Tucson, Houston, New York, Chicago, Detroit and at least 10 other cities by the end of 2013—and then see what happens. Hypotheses require data, and it appears the experiment will be conducted in poor neighborhoods across the country, with their residents serving as human guinea pigs.
To Learn More:
Arizona Gun Proponents Launch Free Gun Program (by Cristina Silva, Associated Press)
Group Plans To Hand Out Free Shotguns in High-Crime Tucson Neighborhoods (by Jim Nintzel, Tucson Weekly)
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