Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gun Control and n'at ...

So there is an ordinance being debated in City Council to require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. You would think this would be common sense, that guns are this very dangerous tool that can kill many people at a considerable distance. Gun owners, however, see this as a threat to their rights to own guns and an indication that our government is turning into a dictatorship. At least, that is the way the debate has shaken out on the Burgh report. It doesn’t help that Tonya Payne said (out loud, instead of just thinking it) “Who really cares about it being unconstitutional?". The measure had six votes, which is enough to overcome a Mayoral veto. But perhaps this legislation will lose a vote or two before the final vote next week.

So what is the big deal, why do we care if I report my gun stolen? Actually, this law is designed to reduce straw purchases, buying a gun (or several) and turning around and reselling them to criminals. The original buyer would then say, if they were ever asked, that the gun was stolen at some time in the past. The notion would be to expose straw purchasers, force them to identify themselves (by indicating that 100 percent of their gun purchases were stolen or lost). But it is likely to be difficult to enforce the law just within City limits, it really needs to be a state, or better still, federal law. But this very law was defeated at the state level by rural legislators, including Daryl Metcalf of Cranberry.

During the course of the debate, someone mentioned a similarity to the abortion debate. That didn’t really resonate with me until I read this on the wikipedeia entry on gun control “The American public strongly opposes bans on gun ownership, while strongly supporting limits on handguns and military-type semi-automatic weapons” with a footnote, referencing a “Gun Control Handbook”. That strikes me as similar to what people say in polls about abortion, opposing partial birth and late term abortions, and supporting parental notification, while opposing total bans on abortion. But the advocates on both sides of both issues are much clearer, taking the absolute positions. My own personal position on gun control is similar to what polled Americans say. I think sensible limits ought to be placed on gun ownership, particularly limits on carrying concealed handguns (which have no role in hunting, by the way), and certainly on this straw purchasing business.

Now, the Wikipedia article suggested that guns are used in defense of home and businesses perhaps as much as two and a half million times a year. Perhaps this is so, but I would like to see sources for that (and none of the Wikipedia sources in footnotes were linked). Also, guns are cited as helpful in preventing domestic violence. Many of the murders and injuries using guns in the home are between husband and wife or boyfriend/girlfriend. Those were the victim is a male are apparently assumed to be a case of domestic violence. My own research into this can’t confirm these findings (and may never be able to). My personal thought is that if someone is threatening you at your business or home with a knife or club, you could probably threaten them back with a baseball bat or other sort of club-like or edged weapon. If you assailant has a gun and you respond with a gun, the situation has escalated and several bad things could result. Similarly, we need to encourage women to feel they can come forward if there is a domestic violence situation. If you think the situation can only be resolved by killing the other person, that solution is drastic enough that we should be able to step in with other solutions, legal remedies.

Of course, gun rights advocates might say legal remedies for domestic violence don’t work. But on the other hand we don’t need additional laws for gun control if we just enforce the ones on the books. There is an obviously convenient view of the law here.

Depressingly, most efforts at gun control have produced few if any positive outcomes. Apparently the problem is that if DC and Baltimore ban guns from their cities, criminals will buy guns from Virginia residents. Our hodgepodge of laws create gaps in enforcement possibilities big enough to drive trucks (full of guns) through.

But I persist in my belief that intelligent gun control, limited in scope but applied all over the country, would have a positive effect on the outcomes if not the incidence of crime in the US.

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