By Graham Reid
“It’s kind of a way of life — rural people have guns,” Chip Gross said at a panel on gun culture Tuesday, March 25.
The panel, sponsored by the Rural Life Center and moderated by Becca Katzman ’14, saw Kenyon students engage with strong pro-gun ideas. The panelists were Gross, a former gun safety instructor, Jerry Scott, owner of Scott Auctions and longtime National Rifle Association (NRA) member and Amy McDonald, a co-owner of Kokosing Outfitters.
The panelists told stories of the roles that guns played in their lives which mostly centered around hunting. They also talked about the need for guns in rural communities, particularly on farms. Gross mentioned the rural problem of “critter control.”
The conversation shifted from guns in a rural context to gun rights in general — echoing the national conversation. Though all the panel members were pro-gun, their views represented a spectrum: “I’m an NRA member, and I don’t always agree with what the NRA says,” Gross said; Scott made no such qualification to his association with the NRA.
Scott made an argument for loosening gun regulations based on the murder rates in the U.S. and Switzerland. “We are at 4.2,” he said, referring to the murder rate per 100,000 population. According to the FBI, the rate in 2012 was actually 4.8. “You take Switzerland, where there is no murder rate,” Scott said, “[and] every individual of adult age is required to have a gun and qualify with that rifle.”
PolitiFact, a Tampa Bay Times fact-checking organization, debunks those notions. Swiss men — not all adults, as Scott said — are required to serve in a militia and keep a rifle — though not ammunition — in their homes. There is no requirement to keep the rifle after service, and rifles that are kept must have their fully automatic capability removed. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the murder rate per 100,000 was 0.7 — roughly 15 percent of the U.S. rate.
Scott’s comparisons continued. “They have just removed guns from Australia,” he said, referring to the 1996 gun control bill passed after a massacre of 35 in Tasmania. The bill banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and included a large-scale mandatory buy-back (for newly banned semi-automatic guns) along with universal background checks. Scott claimed that since, Australian “murder rates and robbery have gone up tremendously.”
Despite Scott’s assertion, the UNODC reported that the Australian overall murder rate per 100,000 decreased from 1.7 in 1996 to 1.1 in 2011. In an academic paper, Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill of Australian National University and Wilfrid Laurier University, respectively, found that in the 10 years after the law’s introduction, firearm homicides declined by 59 percent and firearm suicides fell by 65 percent.
Emily Estus ’14 asked about regulation that distinguishes between “guns that are more for recreational or self-defense purposes and guns that are more military-grade, like fully automatic assault rifles.”
Scott argued against this type of regulation, mentioning an Oklahoma highway patrolman who could shoot a revolver “so fast that you would swear it was a machine gun.” He responded similarly to another question about magazine size restrictions, comparing a BB gun to a .223 assault rifle, claiming, “The BB gun could penetrate the eye and into the brain and kill you just as dead as that .223 with a 30-round magazine.”
Estus wasn’t satisfied with Scott’s answers. “I just don’t think that there’s any reason that an American should ever own an assault rifle, a fully automatic assault rifle,” she said after the panel. Estus did find aspects of the panel productive, adding, “I wish we could have talked for longer.”
Katzman thought the panel’s discussion with students was productive. “I am happy with the dialogue,” she said.
Gross shared that after hearing a car drive by his and his wife’s campsite late at night, he decided to get a concealed carry permit. “When I walked to the front of the tent and I looked out, I felt very, very naked,” Gross said. “[Having a gun] makes me feel more confident. It makes me feel more comfortable.”
Katzman hopes these moments — along with further back and forth discussion — will bring new ways of thinking to anti-gun Kenyon students. “There’s no way they could have walked out of this room without gaining some degree of a new perspective,” she said.