Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2002 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan 5763

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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The sniper and the gun controllers

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It was perhaps inevitable that the recent sniper killings in the Washington area suburbs would be seized upon by advocates of gun control. Like so much in the agenda of the political left, gun control arguments would collapse like a house of cards if people just stopped to think through what is being said, instead of being swept along by emotional rhetoric.

Start with the very name "gun control." Do gun control laws actually control guns? Why would someone who is obviously willing to repeatedly break the laws against murder be unwilling to break gun control laws?

Gun control laws do not control people who are in the business of breaking laws. Gun control simply disarms their potential victims, making crime a safer occupation, and hence one that can be indulged in more widely by more people.

Gun control laws would no more have stopped the current sniper than they stop innumerable other gun crimes in places with some of the strongest gun control laws in the country. Even the latest nostrum of the gun controllers -- ballistic "fingerprinting" of each gun that is sold -- already exists in Maryland, where this orgy of murder began.

There is no record of anyone's ever having been convicted of any crime as a result of this procedure. People who know something about guns -- which many gun controllers do not -- have pointed out how easy it is to change a gun's ballistic "fingerprint." But the real bottom line is that this law has no track record of working.

If you are going to look at the record, then empirical studies have already shown that allowing law-abiding citizens to own and carry concealed weapons tends to produce less violence, not more. Some communities have gone the opposite direction on gun control -- requiring each home owner to have a firearm in the house -- and this has led to fewer burglaries in such communities.

In the Falls Church sniper killing, the sniper was spotted by some people on the scene as he shot an innocent woman in a shopping mall. If we had an armed citizenry, do you doubt that they would have shot him dead on the spot?

Killings seldom start where someone else is known in advance to be carrying a gun. Have you ever heard of one of these supposedly "senseless" killers opening fire on a gathering of members of the National Rifle Association? They always seem to have better sense than to do that.

While many members of the public are swept along by the emotional rhetoric of the gun control advocates, we need to also look at the dishonest arguments and bogus statistics used by those advocates to try to promote their agenda.

There are, for example, their widely publicized statistics on how many "children" die from guns each year. To get these numbers, gun control advocates include young people whose ages reach up above the legal age of 18 for adulthood. That way, the killings between teenage criminal gangs get counted as "children" killed by firearms, as if they were toddlers who found a loaded gun in the house.

Gun control laws might reduce the much smaller number of genuine children killed in genuine accidents. That would have to be weighed against the lives saved when widespread gun ownership reduces violent crime. But we need honest numbers and this the gun control crusaders clearly do not intend to provide.

Other misleading statistics used by gun control advocates include statistics on lower murder rates in selected countries with strong gun control laws, as compared to murder rates in the United States. What these advocates studiously avoid mentioning are higher murder rates than ours in other countries that also have strong gun control laws (Brazil, Russia) -- or lower murder rates in some countries, such as Israel, where guns are more widely available than in the United States.

Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. Weapons matter primarily when the wrong people have them and the right people don't. It is the imbalance in weapons that creates the danger.

This is not rocket science. We should not even have needed the studies which have shown that gun control laws don't work. What we really need to do is stop and think.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate