The Easiest Way to Kill ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

August 30, 1993

What if Thomas Joseph Cummings had not been carrying a gun when he walked into the Severna Park Dunkin' Donuts last Thursday? No one can say for sure, but he and Charles Hottel Willis, the Severna Park college student he shot to death, probably would still be alive.

There are many other ways to kill besides firing a bullet. However, no other method can be carried out so quickly, so impulsively, so effectively.

If Mr. Cummings had lunged with his bare hands, Mr. Willis may have been able to fight back, and his two friends may have been able to help him. A knife can be deadly, but walking up and stabbing someone requires more nerve than standing at a distance and firing. Assuming Mr. Cummings was bold enough to wield a knife, his victim still would have stood a better chance than against 10 bullets, unloaded before he knew what hit him. And, except in Shakespearean plays, virtually no one ever turns his knife on himself.

The National Rifle Association and others who stubbornly oppose gun control are loathe to acknowledge the connection between guns and this country's staggering crime rate: killing happens more often because it's easier here. Guns make it easier and it is so easy to get a gun. No one knows where Mr. Cumming got his, whether he purchased it legally or after a background check. (He did not have a license to carry the weapon.) What is painfully clear is that he never should have had one.

Society sees the need to regulate other dangerous items -- everything from medicines to pesticides to fireworks -- so they do not fall into the wrong hands. But efforts to impose waiting periods before purchase and gun-sale limits run into opposition from gun advocates every time legislators are bold enough to propose them. The chief argument never changes: Criminals will find way to get guns, so everyone else who wants them must have them, too.

Yet study after study shows that virtually none of the thousands of guns floating about end up being used for protection. They're used in suicides. Or accidents and heat-of-the-moment domestic disputes. Or, they end up in the hands of someone like Thomas Cummings, who had no criminal record until one night when his mind snapped in a donut shop during an argument over a dime-store pen.

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