In recent weeks, there have been countless statements made by politicians, pundits and even the Department of Homeland Security that gun ownership or support for the Second Amendment is connected to, if not synonymous with, violent behavior. Unfortunately, this false assumption has permeated its way into the Utah media's editorials, political cartoons and news stories.
Short on facts, those making these accusations have decided to disparage and marginalize those who support the rights of law-abiding gun owners. We saw this in the recent DHS report that equated opposition to gun-control legislation with right-wing extremism. I suppose we'd better keep an eye on the Supreme Court, which two years ago found that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms.
Similarly, cartoons recently published in the Salt Lake Tribune have implied that a recent violent shooting was perpetrated by a member of the National Rifle Association and depicted gun-rights supporters worshiping at a gun-shaped altar atop a mountain of skulls. While one should expect subtlety or nuance from a political cartoon, the extremity of the views expressed in those cartoons is on par with those in the anti-gun crowd.
In other cases, stories have reported only partial truths in transparent attempts to link lawful gun ownership with criminal activity. For example, a recent Washington Post story reprinted in the Tribune cited a statistic that 90 percent of guns seized from criminals in Mexico that are submitted for tracing can be linked to the U.S. This statistic has been cited by many, including the secretary of state and attorney general, who argue that the vast majority of guns confiscated from drug traffickers and other criminals in Mexico came from the U.S. This has become a major justification advanced by anti-gun activists and politicians to justify stricter gun-control laws. However, those numbers are extremely misleading as the vast majority of guns confiscated by Mexican law enforcement cannot be traced. In fact, only about 17 percent of the total guns confiscated in Mexico have been traced to the U.S.
Worse than uncritically citing this statistic without context, this article blamed the "Western ethos" of support for the Second Amendment for problems related to gun smuggling and violence on the border between U.S. and Mexico. It stated unabashedly that an accused gun smuggler was released simply because the U.S. is a "gun country." What was not mentioned was the fact that the defendant was released because the judge found that the prosecutors had not provided sufficient evidence to support their charges. Apparently, that whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing is just another relic of the Wild West mentality.
Indeed, in virtually all cases where someone tries to link support for the rights of gun ownership to unlawful behavior, the facts paint a much different picture. The truth is, the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with guns that were obtained illegally. While the issues are often lightning rods for attack, fewer than 2 percent of all gun crimes involve guns purchased at gun shows, and concealed-carry permit holders commit so few crimes that the statistics can't even be tracked. When faced with these facts, anti-gun enthusiasts are left with only one option: attack on personal and/or cultural grounds. This is why we've become inundated with stories and depictions of gun nuts and violent extremists. Apparently, opponents of the right to bear arms believe that, if they can paint all supporters of gun rights with the same big brush, they don't have to come up with any real arguments.
In the end, the vast majority of Americans — including gun enthusiasts — want to see our laws enforced so that violent offenders are caught and punished. In addition, other crimes associated with guns, including trafficking and smuggling, should also be taken very seriously and can be addressed without restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens. We can have an open and honest debate on these issues, or we can engage in pointless stereotypes in order to marginalize the opposition. It is my sincere hope that, especially among the people of our state, the latter approach will prevail.
Orrin G. Hatch is Utah's senior senator.