Handguns Could Help


October 26, 1991|By ABRAHAM TENNENBAUM

COLLEGE PARK. — The tragic massacre in Luby's Cafeteria in Texas has cause many more voices to advocate more restrictions on firearms. It seems that the rational logic should be the opposite. We should encourage honest citizens to carry and use guns, not vice-versa.

If only one person in the Luby's crowd had been equipped with a handgun, the results could have been very different. According to the rescued victims, most of them just hit the floor after the beginning of the shooting. What could they do? In the movies, the heroes jump on the bad men; in real life, very few citizens have the knowledge and the ability to do so.

On the other hand, everyone with a gun is equal. Men, women, young and old. Every person with a very minimal training with a gun can use it effectively.

George Hennard killed 23 people, and wounded at least 20 others. No weapon can shoot so many bullets without changing the magazine. At that moment, a man with a gun could seize opportunity. Neutralizing the shooter after the first round of shooting could save a lot of innocent lives.

A similar case happened a couple of years ago in Jerusalem. Three terrorists carrying automatic weapons and grenades attacked civilians crowded at the city's densest junction. Only one person was killed, though many were injured. The small number of victims was explained by the quick response of civilians who used their personal handguns against the attackers. (In Israel, it is easy for a law-abiding citizen to get a permit to purchase a handgun, and a permit to own a gun means a license to carry it).

Not everyone was happy about this civilian reply. It was not clear whether some of the wounded Israelis had not been wounded by other Israelis. After all, when many non-uniformed civilians take out handguns, it is not always clear who is the terrorist and who the defender. But the results were much better than they might have been if no one had weapons for protection.

Of course, the United States is not Israel, but the consequences of these similar incidents force us to re-examine our policies.

It is not realistic to leave the protection of the individual exclusively to the police. The police arrived almost immediately at Luby's, but it was already too late. Even the best police officers cannot be everyplace at the same time.

It is not realistic to restrict guns, either. Research shows again and again that criminals do not buy guns in official places. Only law-abiding citizens follow the rules. Doing so makes them more vulnerable to criminals and reduces their feeling of security. In Washington the number of homicides has been skyrocketing, though the gun laws are among the toughest in the nation.

It is not necessarily a good sign of the health of a society that the most effective advice to individuals for self-protection is to carry handguns. Who has a better idea?

Abraham N. Tennenbaum, a former police lieutenant in Jerusalem, is a graduate assistant in the Institute of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of Maryland.

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