THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 416, May 6, 2007
"But why assume that. . .?"
Gun Control: A Killer Cause
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
I was at work when I received an e-mail advising that someone had been shot and killed on a college campus in Virginia. Not long after that, a second bulletin arrived giving the unreal death toll of "32 or more." With different news services scrambling to provide different detailssome suggesting two gunmen were involved, one of whom was still on the looseyou can forgive me for thinking that the number had to have been either a mistake or a typographical error. In the end, despite the many other evolving stories, that horrific number remained unchanged.
I remember my first thought on getting confirmation of the number of dead and wounded at Virginia Tech: "Oh, those poor kids!" But regardless of my very real sympathy for those who died and for those they left behind, a second thought followed hard on its heels: "Oh, our poor Second Amendment!"
There are always those who, despite their tears of sympathy, seem to take a perverse delight in such tragedy. The Brady Campaign was quick to denounce the shootings and, as usual, to blame the gun and the gun laws (or the perceived lack thereof) for what happened. Before we knew for sure who the gunman was or where he got his guns, the Brady Campaign was crowing, "We told you so!" as it claimed that guns are just "too easy to get." Pro-gun groups, on the other hand, declined to capitalize on the killings. The NRA, while expressing sympathy for the victims and their families, said it would have no further comment until the details of the shootings were known.
It didn't take long for the foreign press to jump on the anti-gun bandwagon. An article in The Washington Post the day after the shooting synopsized the reaction to the shootings in Europe. In a nutshell, Americans were roundly condemned and so was the Second Amendment. We should probably not take such criticisms too seriously. They're coming from countries with serious crime problems of their own despite the fact that firearms are effectively banned; their socialist governments have little left to do except raise taxes and install more surveillance cameras. (It's also well worth noting that Canada and Germany have both endured relatively recent public shootings despite their much-vaunted laws.)
Legislation is, of course, already being proposed. Needless to say, some of the proposals are being driven by the woman who is probably the single most anti-gun politician in Congress, New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy. Mrs. McCarthy's husband was shot and killed and her son wounded in December of 1993 as they rode on the Long Island Railroad. Colin Ferguson was convicted of killing six and wounding another 19 passengers and would probably have killed still more if passengers hadn't tackled him as he paused to reload.
Though certainly motivated, Mrs. McCarthy isn't particularly knowledgeable. That, of course, is part of the problem with gun control laws written by the people who most want gun control laws. Their fear is paramount rather than their intellect. And that just makes for bad laws. Interestingly enough, an Alaskan newspaper wrote an editorial comparing the present situation with the mind set of many immediately following the 9/11 attacks. The editors wrote that Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act too quickly, and that serious problems have since been discovered. It urged politicians to calmly consider before taking action that will threaten still more of our civil liberties.
Although at least one New York politician considers even this Democrat-controlled Congress to be sufficiently pro-freedom that gun laws won't change appreciably in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, that may be giving too many politicians too much credit. While McCarthy's legislation may still be some way off, Democrats have joined forces with the NRA to strengthen background checks to ensure that those persons with mental health issues can't purchasefirearms (the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shootings might not have been able to buy the guns he did if such a system were fully in place).
This is one of those rare gun control laws that's legitimately difficult to oppose. Nobody wants someone who is a clear and present danger to themselves or others to have a loaded gun. Unfortunately, such legislation could also result in some less legitimate restrictions. Who will determine which mental health issues disqualify someone from buying a gun? Who will make the official diagnoses? Will such bans be permanent? Will the bans be retroactive? How will mistakes be rectified?
I suspect that this is just the first of many ideas that will be floated in the wake of the massacre in Virginia. Gun rights groups everywhere are preparing for the inevitable assault, and we're already being treated to lists of "common sense" gun laws some would like to see passed. Ironically enough, not a single one on the list would have stopped Cho Seung-Hui from buying his weapons of choice.
In point of fact, there's not much that can stop a truly determined bad guy. If he doesn't care if he gets caught, and he doesn't care if he dies, he'll likely succeed at least to some degree. We know he doesn't care about laws as they pertain to himit's illegal to have a gun on the campus at Virginia Tech, for example, and it's illegal pretty much everywhere to shoot people. He didn't care about his survival, either, which made him perfectly willing to take risks. One risk he wasn't taking, though, was that of good guys not caring about the law. Every last good guy in those classrooms obeyed the law to the letter. They didn't have guns with which they could defend themselves or their classmates, and they died.
Some people have brought up the fact that there was another school shooting in the state of Virginia. Five years ago, a disgruntled student took aim and started shooting at the Appalachian School of Law. Three people died and another three were wounded. The casualty numbers might have been far higher if a pair of students hadn't retrieved their own guns from their parked cars and subdued the shooter.
When people aren't able to defend themselves, we see killing sprees like the one that happened in a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas in 1991. Until Cho Seung-Hui opened fire in Virginia, George Hennard was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Hennard killed 23 people before he turned his weapon on himself. Among those who cowered under the restaurant tables in fear for their lives that was a woman by the name of Susanna Gratia. She watched her parents die and thought about the gun she'd left in her car because Texas law didn't allow her to bring it into the restaurant with her.
Susanna Gratia-Hupp channeled her grief and anger into a run for political office. She's worked ever since to defend our unalienable right to self defense, and she was instrumental in ensuring revisions to Texas law would help prevent another tragedy like the one she endured. Unfortunately, no matter the experience or the logic, some people are incapable of coming to the very simple conclusion that we might actually be capable of defending ourselves on an as needed basis if only we're in possession of the tools to do so.
The Virginia Tech death toll would have been far lower had a few students been carrying that day, or a professor or two had a gun hidden in his desk. Carolyn McCarthy's husband might very well be alive today if he'd had a pistol in his briefcase enabling him to mount a defense against the madman who boarded the train with the sole intent of killing white people. The JPFO has pointed out that gun control didn't prevent the Virginia Tech shootings, but in fact caused the shootings by ensuring students were utterly helpless. And yet the horrifying epilogue to the Appalachian Law School shootingsa case where law-abiding gun owners clearly used their firearms to save the dayis that the school has since adopted a zero-tolerance gun policy.
We can't prevent a determined bad guy from at least attempting a crime. We can't predict with certainty which man will snap in a sudden fit of violence. What we can do is prepare for the inevitability that, someday and somewhere, some insane man or woman will take a deep breath and go on a rampage. No law will stop them from doing so, nor will any kind of rational argument. The only thing, in fact, that will stop them is somebody with the will and the ability to make them stop.
If we remove that ability, or if we make that ability all but impossible to exercise, then I'd submit that those who take away that unalienable right are the real bad guys. And us? Well, we're the crazy ones to let them do it.
"Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws." Plato