Fighting guns

September 06, 1994|By A.M. Rosenthal

New York -- TWO COPS are wounded by police bullets in frenzied cross fire on a New York subway platform. The people and the press demand to know why such a thing happened, and who was responsible.

Why? Two young thugs strolled into the subway, one with a hand gun and the other with a shotgun. That is why. The rest is the consequence of cops risking their lives to do their duty.

One plainclothes officer, gun drawn, chased the two men. He was shot by mistake by an off-duty policeman also wearing civilian clothes, who was then shot by a transit officer.

Who was responsible? The two men who carried their guns into the subway, criminals in the act.

Cause and responsibility seem to me obvious. But living in this city you would certainly never guess it. The press, lawyers, public, even the police all concentrate not on the thugs and how armed hoods can strut about streets and subways, but on how come cops do not react unfailingly to the sight of a man aiming his gun by bowing, checking the wristband color of the day and exchanging badge numbers and calling cards.

One day science may tell us how to hire only cops with infallible control over their adrenalin, heart rate and brain signals.

Meantime, I want to see, read and hear a lot more about the guns and how the criminals got them, who owned them before and how many death merchants are peddling guns on what streets.

I want to know about every crime the men committed before taking guns into the subway. And please, easy on the bit about how their neighbors say what good boys they were.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton have stood by the officers while ordering the necessary inquiries. But I am sorry they missed a chance to tear the head off New Yorkers.

They should have said that our city, like the whole United States, is fouled by guns, stinks of them. Say it plain: Until we do something about that deathly stench the men and women we hire to protect us will be doing their duty knowing that every minute of every tour they are surrounded by muggers, killers and thieves in greater number, expertise and firepower than the world has ever experienced.

I favor total registration and licensing of guns and government control of all gun sales outlets. I know very many Americans will fight every move. The rest of us can fight back with every political, intellectual and economic tool we have, win when we can and return to fight again.

But is that really all, no way for us to fight guns ourselves?

If I were mayor, I would lead the essential attitude-change campaign, from a button in my lapel to organizing parades, demonstrations, neighborhood watches, rewards; and do that for the rest of my term.

If I were a rich man, I would put big philanthropy money into anti-gun causes; maybe then my chauffeur could park outside my favorite restaurant without getting a gun stuck in his ear.

A teacher: I would fill my walls with anti-gun truths, and my children's heads. A clergyman: I would not have to be told.

If I were a politician I would fight for tougher anti-gun laws, and if I were a judge I would enforce them. If I were a member of a civil liberties group I would insist that it re-examine its positions against allowing searches for guns, or blocking public housing tenants from having their buildings swept.

As a journalist, I can ask print editors and TV news producers to put more violence into the news -- the violence of truth.

I would tell cameramen on the spot to get tight close-ups of the wounds if at all possible. I would ask the police -- or courts if necessary -- for pre-autopsy pictures from the morgue, and print them.

The pictures would sicken children and grown-ups, which would be the purpose. It would be one antidote of truth against the lies we constantly see in movies, TV reruns and videos: gun-shot people with no viscera hanging out of their bodies, no feces dripping from their clothes.

None of these ideas will end America's gun disgrace. Only a few generations of voters will do that.

But it is a lot more useful to do something against guns yourself, any decent thing, than just hang around clucking at cops for finding themselves on a subway platform when two men strutted in, smug with firepower.

A. M. Rosenthal is a syndicated columnist.

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