Gun control makes little difference, but we still need it

March 15, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

After much study, I have come to two conclusions about gun-control legislation:

* It makes little difference.

* We should pass as much of it as we can anyway.

I recognize the contradiction, but let me explain.

The current legislation in Annapolis targets semi-automatic weapons. This is your basic no-brainer. You've seen these babies, hard and sleek and cold. They serve two audiences -- fantasy Rambos and those truly interested in killing people.

In fact, they don't have any important function other than killing people, unless you consider serving the romantic needs of gun nuts as important.

But what does banning them do? Nothing at all, or at least nothing significant. It might save a few lives, but these are not the weapons of choice for your basic street-corner hoodlum. He doesn't need something that has a bayonet attachment. He's out to do real work.

Besides, if there's anything we've learned about our homicidal drug dealers, it's that they are adaptable people. Shut down their corner, they move on. Take their gun away, they find another.

If you read Sun reporter Scott Shane's piece on guns last Sunday, you learned of one such killer, who lovingly listed many of the guns he had owned. He couldn't remember them all.

The killer is 22.

He was convicted of walking up to a friend and blowing a hole in his forehead with a .357-caliber Smith & Wesson. I'm no expert on guns, but according to my feeble understanding of firepower, pretty much any gun would have done the job.

Guns have us scared to death. That's why some of us want to get rid of them. That's also why some of us want to get better armed.

After years of losing every battle, the anti-gun people are winning a few. They make some compelling points, like what kind of society is it that kills so many people, and wouldn't fewer guns mean fewer deaths?

They want licensing for gun owners. They want to make private sales more difficult. They want -- let's be honest -- to discourage gun ownership.

The pro-gunners, who used to stick with the Second Amendment argument about how the Founding Fathers believed everyone should have a bazooka to call his own, are starting to fight back on intellectual grounds, not the place you'd necessarily expect to find these guys.

Just last month, the cover story for the intellectual Atlantic Monthly was titled "The False Promise of Gun Control." In the article, Daniel D. Polsby, a Northwestern professor of law, makes the case that criminals are more motivated than the rest of us to own guns. The tougher the guns laws, then, the greater percentage of guns that fall into criminal hands.

This is the basic NRA argument about how gun control would favor criminals. The professor says that since we can't get rid of guns, we should defend ourselves by any available means, as if our 200 million guns were not sufficient.

The March issue of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia apparently makes a similar argument. According to the press release I got, one article argues that 75 lives are saved by a gun for every life that is lost.

That's scary.

More than 12,000 people were murdered by handguns last year. If 75 are saved for each one lost, that would mean 900,000 had been saved.

Can that be right? If it is, there couldn't be a better argument for gun control.

Does anyone seriously believe that the way to solve the violent-crime epidemic in this country is by enhanced firepower?

What's clear is that there are more murders every year and that the problem will almost certainly get worse. More guns obviously aren't working, not if 900,000 and more are still being threatened yearly.

We need to take a stand. We need to say that guns aren't the answer. We need to say that we're going to do whatever we can do to keep guns away from the criminal class.

And then we need to make sure we tell ourselves that gun control is more a message than a solution and that the hard work is yet to be done.

You know the hard work. Everyone knows the hard work. You have to get at why people resort to violent crime and find a way either to deter them or to persuade them to go another way.

Gun control won't do that.

Gun-control legislation will say, though, that we're willing to use every weapon we have at our disposal.

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