GUN CONTROL DEBATE

Guns, but no roses

 
 
 
 
MCT / MCT

kathleenparker@washpost.com

The biggest obstacle to the Obama administration’s push for tighter gun control may be its own best argument: Newtown.

This is because nothing proposed in the gun control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everybody knows it. At best, tighter gun laws will make us feel better.

Let’s review: The Newtown killer was a mentally disturbed young man living with his mother. She had legally purchased her arsenal and had even taught her son how to responsibly handle firearms.

What she did not do was: (1) deal appropriately with her son’s mental illness; (2) safely contain her guns so her son could not access them.

As much as anyone, I am eager to do whatever will make a difference. But I’m unconvinced that what is being proposed will provide the solution we seek.

Universal background checks are a perfectly good idea, except that they won’t stop the burglar who recently cleaned out our house of all our legally purchased rifles and shotguns, including an antique belonging to my great-grandfather, who, as sheriff of Barnwell County, S.C., confiscated the gun from the triple murderer he tracked for three days and finally killed. (I want that gun back, please.)

Those guns are now in circulation among an element of society that has no intention of submitting to a background check or any other effort to ensure that only good guys have guns.

Should we insist that buyers at gun shows submit to a quick background check as they would at any gun store? Sure. Why not? Federally licensed vendors at gun shows already have to conduct background checks, but everyday people who sell among themselves at the shows do not. Few beyond the gun lobby object to this step, but even this wouldn’t have prevented Newtown.

Meanwhile, what about my neighbor, Mike, who, theoretically, wants to buy a shotgun I no longer use? Is it really practical to insist that he submit to a background check? Gun-control proponents would have Mike and me run down to Dick’s Sporting Goods (or some other “portal”) and run through a background check. We could do that. Or, I could just give Mike the gun, and he could hand me a couple hundred dollars one of these days.

If a law isn’t enforceable, is it a good law? Does it prevent Newtown for neighbors to run through a little ritual that creates yet another level of government oversight for no real practical purpose other than to create a gun registry, which, whether one thinks this is a reasonable idea, gun-control advocates insist they don’t want?

But we have to do something, don’t we?

Banning assault weapons and large magazines is appealing. But what, exactly, is an assault weapon, anyway? Most think of assault weapons as machine guns, but many popular firearms, from ranch rifles to handguns, are, like the AR-15 used at Newtown, semi-automatic. This means that they fire only one round each time the trigger is pulled and the gun automatically reloads. Do we ban all semi-automatic weapons?

Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer would simply carry several small magazines and swap them out as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which gun experts will tell you is the most effective close-range weapon of all. Cho used two handguns that are not considered “assault weapons.”

In a country with an estimated 250 million to 300 million guns, imposing new laws on honest people is problematic and bureaucratically complicated. Add to the conundrum our politics of individual freedom combined with the exploitation of emotion to craft what is likely an impotent solution, it is little wonder our congressional leadership is bamboozled.

The fact is, crazy people who would commit a Newtown-type massacre constitute an infinitesimal percentage of the population. Criminals will always have guns, as the murderer on death row told me when I first wrote about this issue 30 years ago. And forcing law-abiding gun owners to submit to new regulations will not prevent another Newtown.

This is not to say we should do nothing. But, lest we delude ourselves, whatever we do, we will do because it makes us feel better. Perhaps that is enough.

© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Does race motivate some Obama critics?

    I have a question for George Will.

  •  
The ring of Bishop Agustín Román.

    SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS

    The bishop’s ring

    One evening two years ago, Bishop Agustín Román limited his supper to a handful of grapes. Urged by Father Fabio Arango to eat a healthy diet he answered that he felt no appetite. As was his custom, he helped his fellow priest wash and dry the dishes at the rectory. Then it was time for him to teach the evening catechism classes at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, a routine that he had carried out with apostolic zeal since 1968.

  •  
FERRÉ

    ZUNZUNEO

    U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression

    If it comes from the United States it must be bad. That is the conclusion some critics of ZunZuneo, the U.S.-sponsored Twitter-like platform that the Obama administration promoted in Cuba to disseminate information and encourage personal communications on the island.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category