Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Enforcing the Laws We Have

An anonymous reader posted a comment to my blog entry from last Saturday, in which I offered comments on America's gun culture and the changes in law and thinking I believed were necessary. I wrote that Cho Seung-Hui, the man who killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech last week, had purchased his handguns legally. The commenter correctly pointed out an error in my discussion: Mr Cho, as a duly reported and registered mental patient, was in fact ineligible to purchase guns under Virginia law. Had his case been reported to the proper authorities as required by state law, he would have been prevented from buying the guns he used in his rampage, at least from any registered gun dealer in Virginia. The commenter goes on to make the perfectly valid point that "New laws are not necessary when effective laws are not enforced."

I stand corrected and thank the reader for pointing out my error. He also makes a point that I have long tried to make myself: that we seldom need new laws - we need to enforce the laws we already have on the books. If one person kills another because he's prejudiced against the victim because of race, we don't need a new law that makes it a "hate crime" - it's murder, which is already a crime (and has been for thousands of years). I do not advocate creating new laws to overly regulate gun ownership per se, but I do advocate enforcing laws which impose severe penalties for the use of a gun in any crime, whether felony or misdemeanor. I fail to see how even the most ardent pro-gun supporter could object to such laws, which criminalize the action and not the simple possession of the weapon.

I do, though, stand by my position that we need seriously to rethink the types of guns we ought to make available for purchase. There isn't much need for average persons to own semiautomatic weapons, for example: few hunters use a handgun to hunt elk in the mountains, and a hunter who blasts away at his quarry with shot after shot needs to pay more attention to his aim and less to the size of his magazine. The easy availability of powerful semiautomatic weapons with large capacity magazines certainly doesn't cause crime, but it does make it easier for a person to commit crimes. Worse, ready availability of a gun can make an already dangerous situation even worse: it's one thing for a husband and wife to argue, but quite another when one can go to the nightstand, pull out a gun, and shoot the other in the heat of passion. Yes, the same result can be had with a knife or a blunt instrument, but a gun allows immediate and deadly application of force from a distance in a way a club or knife cannot.

I've resigned myself to the belief that we will never have a rational discussion of the danger of unregulated gun ownership in this country - there are too many people who view their Second Amendment rights almost as a religion, and are unable to compromise in any way for fear that compromise will lead ultimately to the loss of their cherished guns. But I'd like to think that incidents like the Virginia Tech massacre would at least make everyone think about what the potential dangers of gun ownership are and, at the very least, support the strong enforcement of laws we already have which penalize the use of a gun in a crime.

I don't know how any rational person could argue with that.

But, sadly, the word "rational" doesn't often figure in the passionate discussion of gun ownership in America.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


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