Features

Outlaws and their guns

National | Rash of gun crimes shows that enforcing the current laws is better than enacting new unenforced laws

Issue: "Forbes," Nov. 20, 1999

The latest shootings by two maniacs with grudges in Honolulu and in Seattle produced the predictable cries for more gun laws from Attorney General Janet Reno, Vice President Al(pha) Gore, the big media, and the usual suspects in the anti-gun lobby who won't be satisfied until the only people with access to guns are criminals. As National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston testified earlier this month on Capitol Hill, there are currently 22,000 federal, state, and local gun laws on the books, most of which are never enforced. He properly asked why more gun laws are the answer when current laws are not being enforced and criminals pay no attention to them at all. Anti-gun people are trying to sell more restrictive legislation on the false premise that fewer guns mean a safer society. Writing in The New York Times, Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, urges Congress to skip "incremental legislation that won't control handgun violence" and "immediately call on Congress to pass far-reaching industry regulation" that would effectively "ban" handguns. Whether such legislation would make us safer is no longer a matter of conjecture. Evidence in countries where gun laws tougher than ours exist shows more, not less, crime. In Australia, where strict new gun legislation was passed following a 1996 shooting rampage by a man who killed 35 people and wounded 19 others, gun-related crime has increased. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of armed robberies went up 39 percent last year and assaults involving guns rose 28 percent. Gun murders increased 19 percent. In addition to laws so strict that Olympic shooters must leave the country in order to practice, an expensive gun buy-back program resulted in 640,000 guns being turned in to authorities. The cost of the program averaged $57 per Australian. Still, gun crime is up. Prior to the new gun laws, crime in Australia was in decline. Phillip Adams, a prominent Australian columnist and radio talk-show host, who turned in several of his own guns, got to the heart of the thinking of anti-gun zealots when he told The Washington Post two years ago about the main point of the gun laws: "The whole country feels better." So, facts don't matter, just feelings? In Great Britain, where massive firearms-confiscation programs were enacted following a widely publicized shooting in Scotland, gun-related crimes have increased, including "hot" robberies, meaning those conducted while the victims are at home. Criminals apparently believe their odds have improved since many of the law-abiding have been disarmed. Even the liberal-leaning Democratic governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, said after last summer's synagogue shooting in Los Angeles: "Gun laws wouldn't have helped.... Better enforcement would have helped." That was Mr. Heston's point when he testified before a congressional committee. Only a fraction of laws on the books is enforced, so why pass more laws? Mr. Heston quoted Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who told USA Today, "It's not the federal government's role to prosecute" gun cases. Then why pass the laws in the first place? The goal of the anti-gun lobby is confiscation. In Canada, a law that took effect last December required many new categories of guns to be surrendered. Those who keep them face prosecution and the potential for police invasion of their homes and businesses. Fifty-eight percent of handguns registered in Canada since 1935 are now banned. Those who fail to turn them in can be tracked down and forced to comply, while being charged with a crime. The criminals, meanwhile, are largely undeterred by new laws. Why should they be when they haven't obeyed the old ones? But more laws make some people feel good, including the criminals who now have easier pickings in Australia and Great Britain and probably will have in Canada when new crime figures are available. Maybe the NRA has been right all along. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Anyone want to debate that point with facts instead of feelings?

-© 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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