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Forum News Service, Published March 28 2013

Former NRA president, UND professor debate gun control

GRAND FORKS - Former National Rifle Association president Sandra Froman told a group of University of North Dakota law students Thursday that the rate of gun violence rises with a population’s diversity.

“That fact is true throughout the rest of the country,” she said. “Countries that have homogeneous populations tend to have lower crime rates with guns.”

Froman, who now sits on NRA’s board of directors, was taking part in an afternoon debate at UND’s School of Law with philosophy professor and “Why?” radio host Jack Russell Weinstein, who didn’t let the comment slide.

The reasons behind crime are complex, he said. Students who live in rural North Dakota might not engage in violence because they’re well-known in their own communities, and not for a lack of diversity, which is becoming more widespread here and in the United States, he said.

“So, if gun laws work best in a homogenous population, then the people who say that don’t belong in the conversation because they’re talking about a country that doesn’t exist,” he said.

The spirited exchange represented much of the two-hour debate over gun control, one of several different debates scheduled at the university this year.

Much of the debate provided students with a history lesson on the Second Amendment, gun control laws in the United States, and two landmark Supreme Court cases. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the court ruled that an individual has a right to possess a firearm for lawful uses in federal enclaves. In McDonald v. Chicago, the court extended that right to all states.

Weinstein, who debated in favor of gun laws, contended he does not want to get rid of all guns, but that gun control laws should be in place “to protect people from the worst of ourselves,” he said. For every one time a gun is used in self defense in the home, there are seven assaults and murders, 11 suicide attempts and four accidents involving guns in or around the home, he said.

“More Americans have been killed by guns in the U.S. since 1968 than all the battles since 1775,” he said. “That’s just in my lifetime.”

Although he did not want to take on the NRA, the organization’s approach to the Second Amendment is “a fiction wrapped in a marketing campaign colored with paranoia,” he said.

“We have to re-think what we’re doing, we have to re-think the laws,” he said. “Laws don’t stop criminals, but laws give people the tools to prevent (violence), to prosecute and to learn.”

Froman said gun laws cause an uptick in violence by disarming law-abiding citizens and leaving them vulnerable to criminals. When Chicago imposed a handgun ban in 1982, one of two U.S. cities to impose one, murders by handguns more than doubled within a decade. In 2011, the city had the sixth-highest murder rate, she said.

“If having a lot of guns made places more dangerous in terms of gun violence, then the state with a lot of guns — Arizona among them — would be a lot more dangerous, but it is not,” she said. “What happens is when we ban guns, law-abiding people obey the law and criminals don’t.”

Froman, a self-proclaimed proud gun owner, also used her own experience with a night-time break-in at her former Los Angeles home to underscore why people need to defend themselves.

She argued citizens should be able to carry higher-capacity magazines rather than handguns. The military uses firearms to protect itself against anticipated violence, but average citizens are not prepared and are entitled to have the same protection — if you knew you were going into a fight, you’d take a rifle, not a handgun, she said.

“Even despite all the training I’ve had, I think my adrenaline would be pumping pretty hard, I’d be pretty scared and if I had to defend myself, I’d want more than seven rounds to do that,” she said. New York recently banned gun magazines holding more than seven rounds.

The NRA, of which she became the second female president, is not against gun laws, either, and supports personal safety, she added. Eighty-five percent of its resources are pooled into firearm training and safety, facts that she said get lost in mainstream news that “demonize” an organization, she said.

Weinstein countered by saying a shooter with a high capacity magazine could easily kill students before they even thought of taking out a concealed handgun.

“It’s very easy to make people afraid,” he said. “What’s hard is to look at the background, at the complications, the history of all of this stuff.”

Both stressed students should educate themselves on the issue.

Froman said they should read as much information as possible and might even surprise themselves by changing their belief.

“Regardless, all of you will be lawyers and judges, and your input is important for jurisprudence,” she said.