Gun control has dominated the news lately, from Bill Clinton calling for raising the legal age of handgun owners from 18 to 21, to various bills making the rounds in Congress. All of these bills propose various changes to the law–some of those changes could be considered minor improvements, but a few are obvious attempts to roll back the laws currently in place. What they all have in common is this: they won’t keep guns out of the hands of kids.
Take the Littleton massacre, for example. Dylan Klebold, whose 18-year-old girlfriend bought three shotguns for him at a gun show, would not have been prevented from getting those guns if the strictest of these proposed gun control laws had already been in place. Most of these laws are aimed at controlling handguns, not shotguns. Even regulating handguns is a tricky business. Eric Harris obtained his TEC-DC9 semiautomatic handgun from a friend of a co-worker; this friend was over 21. Furthermore, a ban on the sale, import, or manufacture of semiautomatic weapons wouldn’t have stopped Harris from getting this gun, because there are already so many of this model in private hands. Any ban on the sale of new guns wouldn’t apply to used guns.
Trigger locks are another smokescreen. While they’re useful in preventing young children from accidentally shooting their baby brothers and sisters, any kid over the age of seven can probably figure out where Mommy or Daddy keeps the key. And most of us have already noticed that recent school shootings haven’t involved handguns. The teenage perpetrators have chosen instead to use the weapons they’re most familiar with: rifles or shotguns belonging to adult relatives. In the Atlanta school shooting last month, the teenaged shooter wasn’t hindered at all by his father’s locked gun cabinet. He knew where his dad kept the key, and he often took one or two guns out for a little target practice on the sly.
What legislators are really aiming at with these handgun laws are not to prevent the occasional white kid from shooting up his suburban school; they’re really trying to curb the use of guns in drug crimes, robberies, car theft, etc.–“inner city” crimes, as they’re called. But there are better ways to tackle this, and we’re all familiar with the litany: affordable housing, decent healthcare for low income families, money for drug rehab, an end to welfare “reform” that shoves families out onto the street and exposes kids to drugs and crime, programs that deal with domestic violence, and so on. All those things cost money; so, instead, Congress is beating its chest over violence in the media and cheap handguns.
Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office (Congress’ investigative arm) has released a new report that claims the U.S. military is selling old clips of .50 caliber armor-piercing bullets to a private contractor, who then refurbishes the clips and sells them to private gun dealers all over the U.S. More than 100,000 rounds of ammunition designed to pierce tanks, bring down helicopters, and slice through buildings were refurbished and sold by Talon Manufacturing last year. The report showed that these shells and the weapons that fire them–long-range sniper weapons–can easily be purchased in gun shops and over the Internet. There are fewer legal hurdles for buying sniper weapons than for buying a regular handgun. And while a person has to be 18 or older to get this weapon from a licensed dealer, there’s no penalty for a person who resells this gun second-hand to a kid of any age.
The military also auctions off broken semi-automatic weapons to gun dealers and gunsmiths who then put them back together with replacement parts and sell them. M-1 carbines and M-1 Garands can be purchased easily by the average person on the street, who is free to resell them to kids or to people with criminal records.
Teenagers can own their own shotguns, M-1s, sniper rifles, you name it. What their parents won’t let them own, they can still get access to–if not in their own home, then in the home of a friend. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports that one out of every three households in the U.S. has a gun in the home or in a vehicle. Over seven million households nationwide have both children and guns. In 1.6 million of those homes with kids and guns, at least one gun was kept unlocked and loaded, ready to fire.
So while legislators debate minor changes in handgun laws, they’re distracting us from the main point. We’re already a heavily armed society. The damage is done. And the sale of those millions of guns have made millions of dollars for gun manufacturers and dealers. Quite a bit of that dough is being funneled through the NRA and other gun lobbying groups into the pockets of our legislators (including Slade Gorton), who are all too happy to make sure that no really strict gun control laws get passed. They’ll put on a nice sideshow instead.
It’s nearly a perfect circle. Too bad so many people–kids included–are dying.
Sources: “Armor-piercing ammo being sold as surplus,” Chicago Tribune, 6/16/99 and “Million U.S. homes mix guns and children,” Reuters Health, 6/15/99.