Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's time to talk about guns

"Oh no, not again."

That was the headline for the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, but it could have served just as well for the mass murder at Virginia Tech. Another disturbed young man with easy access to guns and another list of dead students - how many times are we going to watch and grieve before we do something?

It looks like it'll be quite a few.  The Democrats are triangulating and avoiding to keep from giving the Republicans an issue to run on that takes away attention from their Bush war.  The Republicans are clucking appropriately but are playing to their base, well demonstrated by GW being sure to mention that "we still support the right to keep and bear arms" barely before he could get out what a tragedy this all is.

The discussions range from the outlandish (Why weren't the students armed too?) to the usual "why weren't the laws we have enforced?"  The police on the scene answered the first one - if there had been armed students roaming the halls of that university during and after the shootings, the body count could have been much higher.  The police said the last thing anyone would want is them shooting an innocent student carrying a handgun, thinking they were one of the school shooters.

The second one is always a joy - when it's asked why aren't the "laws on the books" enforced when it comes to guns, I have to ask:  OK, which ones?  Washington D.C. and New York City's laws?  Or maybe Virginia itself, where it was that the shooter with a history of mental illness was able to walk out of a gun store with the two weapons he used at VT on the same day after just a 20 minute "background check" that failed to include that illness?  How about Hawaii's gun laws?  Montana's?  Utah's?  How about enforcing Concealed Carry laws, how would that have stopped what happened?  Then there's the law that says you go to jail after you use a gun in a crime - what did that one prevent?

There lies the problem.  Our gun laws are so varied, patchwork and contradictory that nationally they may just as well not exist.  They can vary and cancel out just by crossing another city limits, county or state line.  What good is a gun ban in the District of Columbia if a short drive to another state lets you buy as many guns as you want? 

What we need to do is this:  decide on gun policy then make it a national law.  If it's licensing gun owners, then license every single one in the United States.  If it's everybody should be packing, then make it everyone has to be armed to the teeth.  And yes, it is the guns.  Putting tighter controls on guns won't make the threat of violence go away completely, but it will make the death toll decrease.  The killer in Virginia would probably still have lost it and killed people, but it wouldn't have been so many in such a short period of time if he'd been the "knifeman" and not the "gunman".

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not hunt and have never owned any kind of gun so the allure of them escapes me.   Sure, I played "cowboy" and "war" as a little kid but as the old saying goes, when I stopped being a child I put away childish things.  I never fired a weapon when I was in the military and have never heard "a shot fired in anger" either.  So, guns just don't have the draw on me that they do on others and my opinions on the matter no doubt reflect that.

I do see that we have a choice here.  We can do something daring and make some people have to go through some admittedly inconvenient hoops to get a gun so that people who shouldn't have them don't.  Or we can do what we usually do:  grieve the dead, console the living and not much else.  Then we can do what we usually do as well:  pray that it never happens again while we wait for it and hope.

That's a sure way to clear the path for the next Columbine, Virginia Tech or something more local and personal.  It'll be along presently.


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