Web Special: Guns Q&A

By Dave Buffington

Guns: Q&A

I’m a gun guy. I own guns. I shoot targets. I hunt, if only to walk in the woods. And sometimes, I carry a firearm to defend myself and protect my staff. (Yes, we do see some angry, crazy people around here.)

But I can’t shake the feeling that I failed in my obligation to protect those kids in Connecticut, and like many of my friends on the left and the right, I’ve been asking questions and searching for answers … not just talking points in the red/blue battles, but answers that might actually make a difference.

Let’s start with the questions …

Q: Do you think it would help to arm school principals?

A: I’m not nuts about the idea, but I understand the concept: “Gun-free zones,” like schools, are really “victim-rich zones.” Once a bad guy gets inside the fence, he becomes a wolf in a field full of sheep. And while I huge respect for our police, they can rarely get on scene fast enough.

On the other hand, there have been multiple cases where armed citizens have ended school massacres in the past. (For examples, search for “1997 Pearl Mississippi” and “2002 Grundy Virginia”.)

However, I know that authority figures – like principals, police officers, military officers – can be just as troubled as anyone else. So if we allow school officials to be armed, we should do it as we have with airline pilots – with extensive testing and training.

Q: What about a ban on assault weapons?

A: We tried this during the Clinton administration with the “AWB” – the Assault Weapons Ban – and we ran into an unanswerable question: What is an assault weapon?

All sorts of implements – guns, cars, kitchen knives, baseball bats – can and have been used to commit massacres. (In 2010 in China, Xu Yuyan killed 32 people, mostly children, at a kindergarten. He killed them all with a knife.)

Even if you limit the definition to guns, the question still has no answer. Every kind of gun can and has been used to hurt people. I own a 125-year-old, single-shot rifle. It’s a beautiful thing, made of beautiful wood and polished metal … and I can fire and reload it far faster than you can work up the nerve to stop me.

So the Clinton administration tried to define an “assault weapon” by superficial factors, like barrel length and grip style. It was a largely futile effort, and multiple, independent studies found that the Clinton AWB had no effect on crime over its nine-year run.

Q: What about a ban on high-capacity magazines?

A: For those of you who are new to guns, the “magazine” is the part of the gun that holds the cartridges, and on many modern guns, the magazine is removable.

Some gun guys get upset about a ban on “hi-cap” magazines. I don’t, but I don’t think it would be helpful either. Again, I can still reload faster than you can respond.

Q: But who needs a high-powered, military-style rifle?

A: Leaving aside the issues of the Second Amendment for a moment, the irony of this question is that the rifle used in the Connecticut shooting was not a “high-powered” rifle.

The military does use the “.223” cartridge, but since it was adopted by the military in the 1960s, it has been widely criticized as being too weak to reliably stop enemy soldiers. Indeed, most hunters consider it unethical to use .223 cartridge on deer. Instead, they use much more powerful cartridges.

And again, the definition of “military-style” is largely cosmetic -- somehow contrasting “evil black” military guns versus “nice wood” sporting guns. Also note that the style of rifle used in the Connecticut shooting is widely used for both hunting and accuracy competitions.

Q: Still, wouldn’t restrictions on gun ownership reduce the number of guns and reduce the amount of crime?

A: Here in the U.S., there a well-established, direct relationship to between gun restrictions and gun crime … the states with more gun restrictions have more gun crime. Indeed, Connecticut has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the country … and the Newtown shooter was in violation of lots of them before he even entered the school.

And right next door, in Mexico, personal gun ownership is far more restricted than anywhere in the U.S. … and the gun violence there has reached war zone levels. Prohibition doesn’t work there any better than it does anywhere else with anything else.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, more than 100,000 reservists are required to keep high-powered military weapons in their homes, and if you travel there, you’ll frequently see people carrying rifles around in public. Yet the rate of gun crime there is extremely low.

Q: So it’s a cultural issue?

A: Yes, but I’d prefer to call it a people issue. People who are gun owners have to keep their guns secure. As in too many of these cases, the Connecticut shooter got his guns from a family member. Those guns should have been locked up, which is not all that difficult.

So, I would be fully in favor of a “Gun Owners Responsibility Act” that would hold gun owners personally liable for crimes committed with their guns. Plus, it should mandate training for gun owners, much as we already mandate training for boat owners, hunters and drivers. It terrifies me to go into a gun store and see all the suburban husbands and wives buying guns when they clearly have no background in safe gun handling.

All of that would get a lot of guns out of night stands and into safes, where they belong.

Q: How do you keep guns away from people who are mentally ill, like the Connecticut shooter or the “Joker” in Colorado?

A: We already have an “instant background check” system that works pretty well for guns sold by licensed dealers. We could extend that to close the private-sale loophole that allows individuals to sell guns (handguns only in Pennsylvania) directly to other individuals without a check. If I understand correctly, this is one of the proposals President Obama offered today.

However, for that to work, we have to fairly identify the mentally ill. Back before the “de-institutionalizion” movement in the 1960s, the mentally ill were relatively easy to identify … they were locked away in “state hospitals.”

Today, they’re on the street, and a lot of them aren’t getting they care they need. We need to work on that one without returning to the bad old days of “asylums.”

Q: Why do we need guns at all?

A: For me, guns are primarily a hobby, one that I enjoy a lot. But there’s much more to this issue than target shooting and deer hunting.

To start, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to own guns. It’s a Constitutional right, just as important as the free speech rights I defend with our newspaper and all of our other Constitutional rights.

However, to me, the more important thing is the fundamental human right of self defense. (It’s the “life” in the unalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”)

Despite any and all good intentions, you can’t count on the police and the government to protect you and your family. You have a responsibility to protect them yourself -- and if you’re not Chuck Norris and especially if you’re a woman -- a firearm turns the right to self defense into a practical reality.

If you have any questions or comments, just send them to me at news@thesunontheweb.com. Because of the holidays, I may not be able to respond immediately, but I’ll respond as soon as possible.

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