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Jewish World Review May 17, 2000 / 12 Iyar, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Moms yes, gun control no --
IT MAY PERHAPS SOUND STRANGE coming from a conservative, but I am somewhat cheered by the Mother's Day Million Mom rally on the mall.

Though many of my conservative brethren (sisteren?) were predicting a disappointing turnout, I was not surprised when they turned out to be wrong. The march had gotten women's attention -- which is no small accomplishment in this time of political disengagement. Callers to Dr. Laura's radio program mentioned it. So did fellow mothers from my son's preschool class. And a synagogue friend mentioned on Saturday that she had gotten into an argument about it the previous week.

So I suspected that a great many moms would show up. Estimates of the crowd's size ranged from 500,000 to 750,000, and there were satellite rallies in Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland and other cities.

There was plenty of teeth-grinding fodder in the speeches, along with a liberal amount of gratuitous NRA bashing. And yet I'm glad they came, even though I believe their solution cannot possibly succeed. I'm glad they came because each new shooting in a previously sacrosanct place -- a high school, a first-grade classroom, a preschool (what next a hospital nursery?) -- has left me feeling frightened, horrified and impotent. And this march signifies that millions of other Americans feel the same.

The gun control that they propose -- registration and licensing -- is hardly the "controlled burn of the Second Amendment" decried by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre. But neither is it the answer to what ails America. So while I applaud their concern, I fear that in gun control the Million Moms have chosen the wrong horse to ride.

Let's start with the earnest Rosie O'Donnell. She radiates sincerity. She has some facts at her command. And yet, when Cokie Roberts asked about Paramount's role in producing entertainment that glorifies violence, O'Donnell stashed her halo and resorted to a staunch defense of the industry that butters her bread. People all over the world see our movies, she countered, but suffer nowhere near the level of gun violence we do. So it's the guns.

Rowdy Rosie screaming obscenities
Yet O'Donnell does not explain why this nation, which has always had ready access to guns, did not suffer the kind of gun violence it now does 50 or 75 years ago. Most men over 50 can recall learning to shoot when they were barely into adolescence. Yet they would no more have taken a gun to school and shot their classmates than they would have gone to school naked.

Besides, while O'Donnell and other advocates of gun control insist that they seek only to deny "bad guys" access to guns, their reforms would only inconvenience the law-abiding. If gun controls really worked, that inconvenience would be well worth it. But the data suggest that they don't work.

In fact, the opposite is the case. The only sort of gun law that seems to inhibit violence is the "concealed carry" law. John R. Lott Jr., an economist at the University of Chicago Law School, did a longitudinal study of all 3,054 counties in the United States between 1977 and 1994. He looked at the whole panoply of responses to violence, including mandatory sentences for gun crimes, gun registration, education and so on. His conclusion was that only concealed carry laws produced a demonstrable reduction in crime.

"When state concealed-carry handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by about 8 percent, rapes fell by 5 percent and aggravated assaults fell by 7 percent," he writes. And concealed carry states have not experienced random shoot-outs over fender benders. Most gun owners are entirely responsible.

Do I wish America had never stockpiled millions upon millions of guns in the first place? Yes. Do I wish it were possible to keep guns from criminals through licensing and registration? Emphatically yes. But public policy cannot be based on wishes.

The key to Columbine and the other acts of savagery in modern America is, to borrow a Vietnam-era phrase, a matter of "hearts and minds," not guns.

We have a huge job of soul-searching to do as a nation. Is it the flaccid morality we've preached? Is it the entertainment we permit? Is it the collapse of the family? Is it the sunset of the traditional, religious understanding of life? These are not answers. But they seem good places to start.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate