New Laws Will Protect Americans from Snipers?

Tighter Gun Restrictions Won't Make Americans Safer

The handcuffs had barely been slapped on the two Maryland sniper suspects—John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo—before the so-called liberals began invoking their crimes as a pretext to undermine the rights of all Americans. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, writing on October 31, 2002, invoked federal crime statistics indicating that “the number of people murdered in the U.S.—exclusive of the Sept. 11 attacks—was a staggering 15,980. There were no screaming headlines to accompany this disclosure because more than 15,000 people are murdered in the U.S. every year, most of them by firearms.”

Herbert called for new restrictions on firearms sales in order to protect Americans from future attacks. But is there any reason to believe that new gun-restriction laws would provide any better protection to Americans than previous laws?

Herbert urged ballistics testing of all new guns sold. Ballistics testing as a crime cure has about as much reliability as the baldness cures sold at an old-time circus sideshow. Maryland imposed a new ballistics-test requirement for all guns sold after October 1, 2001. The mandate wreaked havoc on Maryland gun buyers and sellers. Despite this, Maryland prosecutors have yet to use any of the results in court. The test data for new guns are not of much value after the guns have been fired a few hundred times. And revolvers do not leave shell casings—thus making the new mandate almost completely pointless.

Herbert also lays into the “gun show loophole” as a major source of carnage in America. In recent years the gun-control lobby has used that term to define political battles in a way that creates a growing bias against the right to keep and bear arms. The “gun show loophole” is a fraud: federal firearms licensees who sell guns at gun shows must comply with the same federal requirements as for any other gun sale. A small number of citizens without licenses sell guns at gun shows in some states—but the same people can and do sell guns from their kitchen tables and garages. A Justice Department 2001 study estimated that only 1 percent of the guns used in crimes were acquired at gun shows. Yet prohibitionists seized on the imagery of gun shows to try to take a giant leap toward national gun registration.

Herbert invoked a 1999 report by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) denouncing the gun industry’s efforts “to market sniper rifles and the resulting subculture of sniper enthusiasts that have turned discussion of this weapon into a cottage industry of books, Web sites, computer games and even sniper schools.” But John Muhammad had spent years in the U.S. Army—had served in the Gulf War—and was trained by the U.S. government as an “expert marksman.”

Besides, relying on the VPC for dicta on firearms issue is like relying on the Ku Klux Klan for information on race relations. A November 2001 VPC report titled “Un-intended Consequences: Pro-Handgun Experts Prove that Handguns Are a Dangerous Choice for Self-Defense” purported to prove that guns are unsafe in almost any private hands. VPC warned that “there is no way to both safely store a handgun and yet keep it ready for instant use to defend oneself.” VPC asserted that the only alternative to storing a gun is to keep it with you at all times—and then sneered that “strapping on your shooting iron is impractical (not to mention embarrassingly foolish) for most people.” Strapping on a firearm may be “embarrassingly foolish” to “liberal” yuppies whose biggest daily risk is whether Starbucks will have a freshly brewed pot of their favorite flavor. But for the many millions of Americans who live in urban-hell neighborhoods or remote rural areas where law enforcement cannot promptly respond, there is no blushing about taking responsibility for preserving one’s own life.

The titles of VPC press releases over the years vivify the jihad-nature of the center’s work. On March 5, 2001, after a 15-year-old student killed two classmates and wounded many others in the boys’ bathroom, VPC issued a release titled “Santana High School Shooting Latest Proof of Need for Handgun Ban.” On February 7, 2001, after a former IRS auditor brandished and fired a gun near the White House and was shot by Secret Service agents, VPC issued a release titled “White House Shooting Latest Proof of Need for Handgun Ban.” On April 25, 2000, after a gang-banger wounded bystanders in an inept attempt to shoot his enemies, VPC issued a release: “Shooting at National Zoo Latest Proof of Need for Handgun Ban.” VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarman wrote a book called Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Dependent on Government

The more successful gun control is in disarming citizens, the more dependent people become on government officials for protection. Columnist Herbert denounces “the terrible toll that guns in the wrong hands are taking.” It is ironic that Herbert would hit this theme to justify new restrictions on private gun ownership. Herbert has done some of the best writing in America on police misconduct—on wrongful police killings of innocent Americans—and on police department cover-ups of their carnage. Further restricting private gun ownership would not make police more trustworthy or less trigger-happy.

Gun bans don’t ban guns; rather, they ban citizens from legally defending themselves with guns, which at present they do some two and a half million times a year. The more difficult government makes it for law-abiding citizens to get guns, the more power armed criminals will have. Gun bans destroy the possibility of a balance of firepower between law-abiding citizens and violent criminals.

Politicians perennially react to the police’s total failure to control crime by trying to disarm law-abiding citizens. The more government fails to control crime, the less able each individual citizen is to defend himself.

Banning guns in response to high crime rates is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. For the average citizen walking down a dark street late at night, a promise from a politician is worth far less than a .38 Special.

James Bovard

Author, Lost Rights: The Destruction
of American Liberty

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