Not letting this crisis go to waste

The gun control advocates are certainly doing their best to capitalize on the tragedy in Connecticut. President Obama traveled to Newtown himself to declare, "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end....In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to....[prevent] more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have?"

He's got a point.

But speaking as a non-gun aficionado, I understand the basic quandary outlined by the gun rights advocates: if you take guns away from law-abiding citizens, the only people with guns will be the outlaws. In which case it will be open season for them.

If I could wave a magic wand and have all weaponry disappear, I would. But I can't, and there are currently 300 million guns in the country (we have a population of roughly 312 million). That makes the gun problem a little like the illegal alien problem: they're here, and they're not going away, so what's the most realistic solution?

I'm not sure. We already have laws in place (at least in Connecticut, Adam Lanza's home state) to keep people like him from obtaining guns (he was turned down by Dick's Sporting Goods three days before the massacre). But what good did those do?

Liberals say, no private citizen needs a civilian version of military-grade weaponry like the M-4 or M-16. (Adam's mother had a Bushmaster .223, which is such a clone, and although Lanza also had her two handguns with him, it appears he did all the killing with the Bushmaster.) I tend to agree with this.

Gun rights advocates say that people certainly ought to be allowed to have guns in their homes to protect themselves. Potential home invaders are certainly going to think twice if they think that a homeowner may be armed. I agree with this as well.

The Constitution actually makes provision for an armed citizenry -- to protect themselves against a tyrannical government, if necessary.

Gun control advocates say that the Constitution was written in the era of the musket, and that the Founding Fathers did not foresee the era of semiautomatic weapons. True, but given that we are in an era where criminals have semiautomatics, we can't expect law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with muskets. It's too late to close Pandora's Box.

Sandy Hook Elementary School was a gun free zone. The idea is nice -- a peaceful place with no weapons. But it's a dirty little secret that such zones attract people bent on mayhem. Lanza knew he would encounter no armed opposition when he went to the school. And James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, didn't go to a much larger theater closer to his home because it was not a gun free zone. He knew he would have a higher toll if he went somewhere where people were defenseless. The death toll in Clackamas was low this past weekend because the shooter at the mall was confronted by someone with a carry permit; the shooter subsequently went into an area which had already been evacuated and just shot himself.

There is ample evidence that the murder rate is lower in places which have right-to-carry laws. This has been demonstrated in Florida, Texas, Michigan, Washington DC, and Chicago. These statistics are somewhat muddied by the fact that the handgun bans often coincided with the peak murder rates in the US during the height of the crack epidemic; but they are still convincing. In a way, these statistics are the gun free zone phenomenon writ large.

Liberals always cite the example of Canada, which has much stricter gun control laws, and which also has a much lower murder rate. They also have vastly different demographics than we do -- but of course you're a horrible person if you bring that up. The counterexample to Canada is Switzerland, where every male over the age of 21 is required to own the assault rifle he was issued as part of his Swiss militia service. Yet the murder rate there is far lower than even Canada's.

There is also plenty of other evidence that legal gun ownership correlates with a lower murder rate, as described here by Thomas Sowell.

There's been a fairly deafening silence over the past several days from liberals regarding the stop and frisk tactics of the NYPD which has been so successful at taking guns off the streets. (The NYPD, so often the target of outrage, ought to heed Rahm Emanuel's famous dictum here too.) And those are all guns taken from criminals (anyone carrying an illegal gun is by definition a criminal).

And there's a certain hypocrisy when those who are well protected -- say, by Secret Service personnel -- wanting to take away others' carry permits. Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, which favors strong gun control, has a carry permit himself, and those are almost impossible to obtain in New York City. The NY Times actually came out with no fewer than four editorials today calling for stricter gun control -- and that doesn't even count their front page, which is basically another editorial section. (Strangely, they neglected to mention that their publisher carries a handgun.)

The existing laws don't seem to deter mass killers. James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, bought his guns legally in Colorado, from a Gander Mountain and a Bass Pro Shop. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, purchased their guns illegally from acquaintances -- who had purchased them legally. Seung-Hui Cho, the VA Tech killer got his guns legally in Virginia, where it is easy to do so. Jiverly Wong, the Binghampton shooter, had a New York state pistol permit. Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter, purchased his guns legally. You can see who has a criminal record, but you can't predict who's going to go crazy.

It is true, as the gun control advocates say, that a would be mass murderer with a knife couldn't do as much damage. How far would any of the wimpy guys in the paragraph above have gotten with a switchblade? Not far enough for us to have ever heard of them, that's for sure.

But, if you're really hell bent on destruction, you don't need a gun. Think of Timothy McVeigh.

Enough blather. Here's what we should do: increase stop and frisks. Increase penalties -- drastically -- for being in possession of an unlicensed gun. Increase waiting periods for prospective gun owners (this is otherwise known as the "cooling off" period for those who buy with some sort of revenge in mind). Make it somewhat harder to buy a military clone like the Bushmaster Adam Lanza used. (It's already near impossible to legally acquire a fully automatic weapon.) And we should not only end gun free zones, we should require the presence of at least one armed -- but unidentifiable -- person at every public school, similar to the presence of the federal air marshall on most flights. (This person need not be an extra employee, it could simply be a teacher -- or two, or three -- who's assigned the task.)

We should also institute a penalty for those who, through any sort of sloppiness, allow their guns to be taken by those who commit mayhem. It's too late to prosecute Nancy Lanza, but she definitely deserves part of the blame for last Friday's massacre.