Friday, April 3, 2015

Some bad ideas never go away

From OCTOBER 13, 1910 Frank Leslie's Weekly
Does the Pistol Make Criminals?
How Apparently Misdirected Legislation Is Proposed without Thoroughly Investigating
the Revolver and Its Humanitarian Services
By John Wilmer Broadman
L AST WINTER I spent a morning in a legislative committee room. A hearing was in progress on a bill to prohibit the sale of pistols . The man who spoke in behalf of the measure had once owned a pistol . He kept it in a trunk. One day the trunk was broken open and the pistol stolen. This incident had convinced him of the uselessness of owning a pistol unless one purposed to commit murder with it. A moment later, although probably not as a corollary of that thought, he advanced the idea that the possession of a pistol almost invariably did create murderous impulses in the heart of the possessor.
His views, he said, were the result of considerable investigation, although he did not reveal the results of such investigation, and when requested to do so by the chairman of the committee, confessed that he would be obliged to avail himself of some future opportunity to submit facts that supported his views. He, nevertheless, expressed the conviction that all right-minded people would agree with him and that those who did not were very probably actuated by motives not at all creditable to them.
After this illuminating discussion of the subject the committee heard a gentleman who was opposed to the bill, and who, after commenting at some length on the Federal Constitution, wound up with the thought that inasmuch as people could buy pistols outside of the State they might as well be permitted to buy them in the State and thus keep the money at home. If this hearing was a typical one and if such arguments as I have described afford the only light that legislators receive from the outside on the public benefit or detriment which is likely to result from the passage of a given bill, I must confess that my admiration is irresistibly attracted to the legislature of a certain Southern State which recently decided that the best thing to do about the various bills before it was to do nothing at all. I understand that this pistol bill was reported unfavorably by the committee. The subject interested me to some extent.

I F THE pistol requires to be legislated about, it is worth knowing something about. I wondered what kind of people were led to do murder because they happened to have pistols and who would have been able to keep their hands free of the blood of their fellows if they had not had pistols . Every one had an answer for my question, but smiled indulgently when I asked them if they had ever made any investigation of the subject. They knew because they knew, and that was all there was to it. George S. Dougherty, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, came to my assistance. He very kindly lent me a chapter from the homicide files of the New York office of the Pinkerton agency, containing apparently all of the homicides, both in and out of New York City, that had been referred to in the New York papers during a period of seven years, from January, 1902, to January, 1909. Of the total number of slayings reported, forty-seven per cent. were committed with pistols and fifty-three per cent. with other weapons. Of the pistol murderers, fifty per cent. were committed by criminals as an incident or sequel of robbery. Of the remaining slayings with pistols , about sixty per cent. were committed by men with criminal or semi-criminal records; about eighteen per cent. were bona-fide cases of self-defense; maniacs were responsible for five per cent.; Sicilian and Neapolitan vendettas for another five per cent.; the so-called unwritten law answers for three per cent., and the remainder do not admit of classification.

The foregoing are facts, and probably typical facts. Now, what do they prove? Do they prove that our murders would show a decrease of forty-seven per cent. if there was no such thing as a pistol ? I am afraid they do not. I am not sure there would be any decrease or that there would not be an increase. These facts prove, or seem to prove, that the people who commit murder are for the most part either criminals, who take human life as an incident to their trade, or men who have skulked furtively along the frontier of crime, committing occasional infractions of the law, possessing criminal instincts and dissolute habits, and perhaps best described as criminals in the making.
Excerpted from Acessible Archives, an amazing collection of colonial and 19th century newspapers.

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