Congress' war on crime proceeds without a clue

May 02, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Congress is going to fling $20 billion or more at crime. Members are still mulling over how it will be spent, but we are promised more prisons, cops on the streets and tougher sentencing laws.

But in a scanning of the day's top crime stories, it is hard to see how the $20 billion and new laws would have prevented any of them.

In the northwest suburbs of Chicago, a likable bartender broods because his girlfriend dumped him. He kidnaps her as she leaves her job and when the cops close in on his car, he kills her and himself.

Obviously, he wouldn't have been discouraged by any "three strikes and you're out" sentencing threat. Nor would an extra cop or two in his community have made a difference.

Only a total ban on gun ownership could have stopped him. But Americans don't want a total ban, and no politician would dare suggest it, so the two deaths couldn't be avoided.

On the same page was the story about the arrest in the killing of two men in a suburban pizza parlor. It was a typical, mindless 1990s crime. Two men die, and the total loot was a stereo and $14.

If people are stupid enough to murder for $14 and a stereo, how do you prevent it? You can't. The cops can't, the prosecutors can't, nobody can.

It happens somewhere just about every day. For a small business with open doors, there is safety only in thick bulletproof glass and a pistol within reach.

So what will Congress do -- provide every small business with a glass wall and a gun? Of course not. It won't do anything except huff and puff and blow a lot of money.

Oh, there is a chance it might ban the so-called assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition clips. But the reality is that assault weapons are used in only a small fraction of crimes. A standard six-shooter is still the weapon of choice for those who want to commit murder.

So if Congress really wanted to prevent shootings such as the above, it would forget about registration, cooling-off periods and background checks, and boldly ban all handguns, assault weapons and any other form of firearm.

It can't do that because the majority of Americans would be furious. They want their guns.

What they want is for criminals not to have guns. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to keep guns from criminals. Under present and future laws, someone without a criminal record can buy guns. Then he can sell them at a profit to criminals. That happens now, and it will happen after Congress creates new paperwork.

Drugs are also behind much of our crime. The need for it drives users to steal and kill to feed their habit. The profit in it causes dealers to kill rivals over territory.

So Congress will provide some new meaningless laws, but they won't do much good.

Besides the street crime, the drug industry gives us official corruption. In New York, many cops have given up trying to bust drug dealers. Instead, they take a cut of the business or rob the dealers and sell the stuff themselves. If it's happening in New York, can we doubt that it is happening in other drug-drenched cities?

A friend of mine is a very smart judge who spent several years running a narcotics court. When I asked him how the battle was going, he said: "It's over. We lost. The only thing we can do is legalize the stuff."

Of course, if he said that publicly, he would be shouted down. Anyone who talks about putting drugs on the same plane as booze -- licenses, taxes, controls, and low-cost fixes for hard-core addicts -- is considered a nut out to destroy our society.

No, Congress isn't going to do much besides blow hot air and spend a lot of money. It is caught between politics and reality; practicality and the do-gooders; laws written on paper and the laws of the city streets.

Why, not one congressman has mentioned dogs. I note that because I once asked former Chicago Police Superintendent James Rochford what the most effective home burglar alarm system was.

"A dog that barks," he said.

Maybe Congress should provide a tax deduction for everyone who owns a dog.

Why not? Some mutt's bark is better than a congressman's bite.

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