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September 6, 2002

THE VIOLENCE POLICY CENTER continues its ongoing effort to shred what little credibility it has left, with its “Alexander Hamilton essay contest,” in which students are invited to write essays explaining why the Second Amendment doesn’t actually give people any rights. But while there is — to me at least — something inherently suspect in an essay contest that’s explicitly anti-constitutional-rights, that’s not the credibility shredder. It’s the name: VPC says it named the contest after Alexander Hamilton because (by dying in a duel with Aaron Burr) he was a “victim of handgun violence.”

Eugene Volokh observes:

Wow, a victim of handgun violence. In some sense, I suppose, it’s true — he was killed in a violent act with a handgun. But surely if the NRA wanted to have a poster child for its “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” campaign, Hamilton would be top of the list! First, what Hamilton did was already illegal — dueling was and is attempted murder (or, in Burr’s case, actual murder). Can you imagine the scenario? “Mr. Burr, I would fight a duel with you, notwithstanding that dueling is a crime — but because handguns are illegal, I cannot.”

Second, surely dueling (especially in the early 1800s) was one situation where if people didn’t have guns, they’d use something else instead, and pretty much as effectively. I haven’t seen the statistics, but my sense is that a wound from a sword in 1804 would have been about as deadly as a wound from a pistol. (Pistols may be more lethal than bladed weapons, then as well as today, because it’s easier to run away from a bladed weapon — but that factor, which might be relevant to modern gun control debates, is surely completely irrelevant to a duel.)

Whatever one may say about Hamilton’s death, it most assuredly provides zero support for gun control proposals. Blaming the gun — as opposed to blaming Hamilton himself, blaming Burr, blaming social attitudes that tolerated or encouraged dueling, or whatever else — in this case is almost self-parody. If the NRA were trying to mock the anti-gun forces by putting ridiculous words in their mouths, it would be hard for them to beat “Hamilton was himself a victim of handgun violence.”

Yes, but the VPC’s descent into self-parody (there’s no “almost” about it) has become so steep that it has undoubtedly gone beyond anything the NRA could think up.

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