James Q. Wilson, the author of the essay ,“Just Take Away Their Guns”, feels strongly about his point of view on gun control. However, I feel his point of view gets the best of him in what is decidedly a very unsupported argument for the implementation of “stop-and-frisk” policies in place of more gun sale restrictions. His claim that people need guns to defend themselves is at times convincing, he does not provide enough evidence to convince his audience that police frisks will solve the issue of gun violence, instead just seemingly if his solution is a better option than more gun legislation. Along with his dismissal of gun-control advocates and his lack of consideration for the consequences of increased police frisking finds his argument to not be very effective.
In his essay, Wilson argues that gun control policies have little to no effect on the issue of gun violence, and states that the most effective way to bring down the high levels of said problem is by having police departments implement and carry out “stop-and-frisk” procedures (Wilson 126-128). He begins by providing us with statistics that he believes proves that most gun violence is committed with illegally owned guns (Wilson 126). After introducing his audience to his solution of police frisking, he quickly gives into the constitutionality of the act, using the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio as justification for its legality (Wilson 126). Wilson then provides us with reasons that police departments and officers currently do not frisk many people, from the shortage of officers to the fear of being accused of police harassment (Wilson 126-127). He states in the majority of the essay to put down the pro-gun control argument, before briefly mentioning the possibility of frisking being disproportionally performed on minority men in his closing paragraph (Wilson 127-128).
This brings us to the first issue of Wilson’s essay. He ignores the potential negatives of his proposal and he acknowledges at the very end that racial profiling may be an issue, he passes it off as merely an inconvenience, referring to it and similar problems as “complaints,” which suggests he does not see such arguments as legitimate (Wilson 128). What about the increase in the number of arrests that is sure to follow? What about the danger to police officers? With my uncle being a police officer, I know firsthand how unpredictable some people can be. “Stop-and-frisk” policies will only increase the number of run-ins between law enforcement and gun-wielding criminals, encounters which at any time can escalate and lead to one party or the other getting shot and possibly killed. He admits that “Guns often convert spontaneous outbursts of anger into fatal encounters” (Wilson 128). Wilson ignores the social injustices that a nationwide increase in police frisking would invite, thereby greatly bringing down the credibility of his argument.
Along with Wilson’s lack of discussion about the consequences of police frisks comes a lack of supporting evidence that it will work. His pro-frisk argument focuses almost exclusively on the legality of the practice but does not provide a single example of a place where similar policies were implemented and then succeeded in bringing down the level of gun violence or even reducing the number of illegal guns on the streets (Wilson 126). He goes back to why self-defense is a legitimate reason to cut down on gun control, which to the reader might seem as if he is trying to avoid discussing known successes or failures of stop-and-frisk policies (Wilson 127). Wilson never gives real specific reasons on why he thinks it will work other than that he believes it will get illegal guns off the streets, only telling us how it works and “the kinds of actions [taken by the suspect] that the Court will accept as providing the ‘reasonable suspicion’ necessary for a stop and frisk” so that cops will not be in any legal trouble (Wilson 127). I do not think any reader who did not already believe that familiar policies would be successful would not convinced by Wilson’s essay.
Another issue I have with this essay is Wilson’s disrespect for the opinions of gun control advocates. I personally grew up in a conservative household. My family and I have respect for the opinions of other people, even those we do not necessarily agree with, such as gun control supporters. He completely dismisses the progun control argument, at one point going so far as to say that gun control advocates “adopt a position that is politically absurd” (Wilson 127). Wilson’s bias is evident throughout the essay, as he gives five full paragraphs arguing against gun control, about the same amount of space which he spends discussing the subject of his essay, police frisking (Wilson 125-128). This behavior makes it seem as if Wilson is writing this paper to point out what he perceives as flaws in the pro-gun control argument and is simply using police frisking for a topic to get people to read his essay. I believe that if Wilson would have spent less time on bashing gun-control advocates and more time pointing out facts and statistics that would help persuade readers of the effectiveness of police frisking, his essay would have been much more effective.
I will give Wilson credit for a few things he did right. Wilson, through his word choice, makes police frisks sound like a quick and innocent procedure, simply describing them as the “patting down of a person’s outer clothing” (Wilson 126). Being more truthful, police frisks are often very invasive and rough, sometimes preceded by being thrown to the ground or shoved up against a patrol car as seen on television. Wilson also makes people feel as if he or she will likely never be the target of a police frisk, suggesting that “people on probation or parole” or who are members of “a gang known for assaults and drug dealing” would be the more likely targets (Wilson 127). Some people might see these as more of a negative of his paper because he is being somewhat deceitful, but it was well executed by the author and was one of the few things that helped his paper reach out to more readers rather than push readers away. His argument for the usefulness of guns in the realm of self-defense is, as I said before, somewhat convincing. The statistic he uses that states that “every year, guns are used…for defensive purposes more than a million times” has caught get my attention (Wilson 126).
In conclusion, I believe gun control advocates would find his point of view more offensive than persuasive, and minorities might feel as if Wilson is sacrificing their rights for the greater good of society. I believe that with the right guidelines put in place and the proper training given to officers, frisks could be more of an effective practice in lowering the number of illegal guns on the streets. However, Wilson’s lack of evidence, hostility towards gun control advocates, and he does not have many solutions for potential problems such as racial profiling and jail overcrowding greatly hinder his argument.
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