Taking a couple of shots at the gun-control issue


September 10, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Richard Wottrich, 47, an investment banker, lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He could afford to live somewhere quieter and upscale, but he is attracted to the vibrancy of a lively but dangerous city neighborhood.

Recently, there was a gang drive-by shooting near his home. Four young men were shot, which appalled Wottrich.

So he wrote an angry description of the shooting scene and sent it to me, along with this note:

"The enclosed story is about a recent drive-by shooting on my street. What are you prepared to do about this?

"Let me be specific. When will you assert leadership in taking guns away from our children?"

I'm flattered that Mr. Wottrich would single me out as someone who can do something about gang shootings. And that he expects me to "assert leadership" in disarming gang youths. But he'll be disappointed by my answers.

Question 1: "What are you prepared to do about this?"

Answer: Not a damned thing.

See, I am not the police chief or the mayor of Chicago. And even if I were, I couldn't do any more than they have to get rid of guns.

Oh, I suppose if I were mayor I could boldly declare that I was going to hire 2,000 more cops and use them as a massive anti-gang task force. They would then overwhelm the violent neighborhoods, roust the gang members on sight and seize their weapons.

But it would be an awful lie. There's no money to hire 2,000 cops. Or 1,000. Or 500. To raise the cash, I'd have to raise real estate taxes and that would cause an uproar and I'd be tossed out of office.

And even if it could be done, the cops couldn't harass the gangs because lawyers would rush to court and a judge would order the cops to stop violating the constitutional rights of gang members to be social menaces.

So all I can do is write columns expressing outrage that gang thugs are shooting each other and innocent non-combatants.

But that doesn't accomplish anything. The gang members don't read newspaper columns. And if they did, they wouldn't be impressed.

Question 2: "When will you assert leadership in taking guns away from our children?"

Our children? Sorry, but I accept responsibility for my own four children only. I'm happy to say none packs a gun.

If all parents kept guns away from their kids, the problem would almost disappear. But we all know that the parents of today's gang members won't be mistaken for Ozzie and Harriet.

Actually, I did try to assert leadership on this issue. Back in the early '60s, when Mr. Wottrich was a high school student, I wrote my first gun-control column. And over the next 20 or so years, I wrote enough columns on the subject to fill a book.

I probably wrote more columns on handguns than any columnist in the United States.

But as far as I can tell, the columns accomplished only one thing: I increased revenue for the postal service. Every time I wrote on the subject, the sale of postage stamps would go up as members of the National Rifle Association sent thousands of letters telling me I was a boob.

Then I realized they were right. I was a boob. Not because I was against gangs and other criminals having guns. But because I thought that writing about guns did anything other but attract angry mail.

I think that realization hit me after President Reagan was shot and almost killed, but almost immediately declared his loyalty to the NRA and the free flow of guns. I figured that if the president of the United States didn't mind being plugged, who was I to beef?

True, his press secretary received a terrible wound and the Brady Bill became a rallying point for the anti-gun crusaders. But where was James Brady before he caught a slug? I'll tell you where: shoulder to shoulder with the pro-gun lobby. And if he hadn't been shot, that's where he'd be today.

And I finally noticed something else. When it comes to guns, the Congress of the United States has no guts, presidents have no guts, and most of our state legislatures have no guts.

So why was I wasting space and boring readers by repeating myself when powerful leaders ducked the issue? (Not that I don't waste space on a regular basis. But I prefer wasting space on subjects I enjoy more than death and destruction.)

Finally, I noticed something else. Strict gun laws are about as effective as strict drug laws. The drugs flow and so does the supply of weapons. It pains me to say this, but the NRA seems to be right: The cities and states that have the toughest gun laws have the most murder and mayhem.

Just as junkies find drugs, criminals find weapons. And I haven't the faintest idea how to prevent it.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.