Sensible gun laws

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted July 17, 2000

The latest sound bite employed by the anti-gun lobby is the call for "sensible gun laws".

With over 20,000 gun laws in America and untold thousands in other countries, almost any kind of law you can think of already exists. Presumably each was considered sensible by the people who wrote them, but none have ever been shown to reduce crime, suicides, or accidents.

Consider the proposal for nationwide licensing and registration; at first glance, it seems like a sensible idea. However, the stridently anti-gun Violence Policy Center admits that, based on the Canadian experience, the cost of such a program would be "staggering" and "would have little effect on the vast majority of gun violence." The VPC also knows that America's 80 million gun owners are painfully aware of the mass confiscation of registered guns in England, Australia and Canada. They will never allow such a dangerous law to pass.

In this era of the nanny state, some politicians have proposed laws to make guns foolproof with computer chips. This may be an admirable attempt to reduce accidents, but "smart gun" technology will probably generate a large increase in handgun sales, while having no effect on the deliberate misuse of guns.

Gun locks are another popular idea that may seem sensible. Unfortunately, proper use of gun locks requires training and anti-gun groups are fanatically opposed to firearms training. They know that education exposes many of the myths about guns that they have created.

Efforts to ban certain classes of guns have been particularly ludicrous. These laws are invariably written by people who know little about guns and refuse to learn. The results are never as expected.

In California, for example, the so called Assault Weapons Ban failed to ban many weapons that can be used to commit crimes, but unintentionally included some Olympic target pistols. Lauren Santibanez, a seventeen year old world class target shooter, found out that her .22 caliber precision target pistol was banned in California. Instead of admitting his mistake, the arrogant state legislator who sponsored the law responded by saying that she should move to Texas.

Several states and cities have given police the power to deny people the right to own a gun. Perhaps this sounds sensible, but the authority is almost always abused. In cases where cities have been forced to reveal their list of permit holders, they are usually politicians, celebrities, rich political contributors, and relatives of police officers.

Many women who live in these jurisdictions have complained that they were denied a permit even when they presented evidence that they were being stalked by a violent predator. They are told that the police will protect them, but when they demand real protection, they find that the police have no obligation to provide it and lack the resources to do so if they did. Its a very real and frightening Catch-22.

So what would make a gun law sensible? First it would have to be effective in reducing crime, accidents or suicides. Second, it would have to be a wise use of scarce public resources. If the money were instead spent on child abuse prevention or drug treatment programs, would the net benefit to society be greater?

So far, all existing and proposed gun laws fail this simple test. Criminals ignore the laws, suicide victims substitute other means and potential accident victims are usually unaware of the laws that are supposed to change their risky behavior. Of course those who truly hate guns don't care if a law is ineffective. When it doesn't work, they just propose stricter laws.

Do we need any gun laws? Perhaps a case can be made for laws that prohibit felons, young children and the mentally incompetent from owning guns. However, such laws are already on the books, and judging from the outraged cries of "blood in the streets" from the gun haters, they have not been very effective.

Our current gun control laws are an embarrassment. It is time for a complete overhaul. Repeal them all and start over. Any new ones must pass the "sensible law" test.

In the end, the most sensible approach is to promote training and education. Let's give responsibility back to the people and let them make their own choices.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a Vancouver, Washington optometrist who moderates an e-mail list for discussion of gun issues in Washington state. He may be reached at mb@e-z.net

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