Police Issues

Thought-provoking essays on crime, justice and policing

     Home           About           Index           Links          For educators          Contact          Novel

  < More recent                          Gun Control 2007-08                        

Posted 11/16/08


Combatting gun trafficking and tightening dealer oversight are key

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  “He’s a gun snatcher.  He wants to take our guns from us and create a socialist society policed by his own police force.”  Standing in front of a wall bristling with assault weapons, that’s how Texas gun-store owner Jim Pruett described the reign of terror that President-elect Obama intends to unleash on unsuspecting Americans.  What he didn’t explain, perhaps because the reporter forgot to ask, was exactly how the new Prez and his liberal posse would get police and the military (last I checked, they seemed pretty, um, conservative) to abandon our land, from sea to shining sea, to a bunch of Commies.

     Maybe Jim didn’t really mean it.  Click on his website and you’ll see right away that his gun store is an “anti-terrorist,” not anti-Government headquarters.  Those assault rifles are for use against evildoers only!

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Beefy all-American muchachos aren’t the only ones plunking down their hard-earned bucks for a .50 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver or a Bushmaster Modular Carbine.  Thanks to the avarice/misguided patriotism (you pick) of the American firearms industry, and the ignorance/ spinelessness/misguided patriotism (you pick) of Federal, State and local lawmakers, ordinary gangsters are now better armed than cops.  And the threat isn’t just from “real” criminals.  Last year’s spate of school massacres demonstrated that demented citizens have frightfully powerful and accurate weapons at their disposal as well.

     Where do crime guns come from?  Nearly all are bought in retail stores.  And despite the ridiculous assertions of gun fanatics and their fellow-travelers, most aren’t stolen.  Weapons purchased by straw buyers and gun traffickers often wind up on the streets quickly.  Others lay around for years and pass through many hands before being misused.

     Buying a gun from a licensed dealer is ridiculously easy.  Federal law imposes few requirements.  Long-gun buyers must be 18; handgun buyers, 21.  They can’t be convicted felons.  And that’s about it.  Other than for a few States like California that impose a waiting period or restrict handgun sales to one per month, it’s possible to leave with an armful of weapons within minutes.

     What about those who can’t legally buy firearms or want to remain invisible?  All that’s necessary to defeat the feeble system is to get a “straw buyer” to belly up to the counter.  That’s how a gun recently used to murder a Philadelphia cop wound up on the street.  One can also circumvent gun stores altogether.  As we pointed out last week gun transactions between private individuals are mostly unregulated, so it’s easy to go to a gun show and buy one gun or a carload without showing any ID at all.  Worse, since private parties aren’t required to keep records, guns bought that way can’t be traced.

     With forty percent of American households owning at least one firearm, an estimated two-hundred million in circulation, and a Supreme Court on the pro-gun side, it’s probably unrealistic to consider tough new restrictions on ownership.  But if we feel compelled to do something, here are a few ideas:

  • Outlaw exceedingly lethal firearms.  Assault weapon bans focus on superficial features like the presence of a flash suppressor or hand grip but ignore the real issue: lethality.  We must move beyond “feel-good” laws to address characteristics such as projectile ballistics, cyclic rate and accuracy at range.  Commonly worn police vests can’t defeat high-velocity rounds such as the .30-06, so setting limits strictly on penetration would probably rule out most hunting rifles and all handguns from the .357 on up.  It may be possible to develop a point system that could address particularly lethal combinations, such as rapid-firing, semi-automatic shoulder weapons that chamber high-velocity cartridges.
  • Combat interstate gun trafficking.  Unlicensed street peddlers and gangsters from strong-law States like to stock up at gun shows in nearby, weak-law jurisdictions.  Arizona, Nevada and Texas are gateways for guns to California, while Georgia, Florida and Virginia provide the same unwelcome service for New York.  One could ban sales at gun shows altogether (the best idea.)  If not, the illicit flow can be stemmed by requiring that all transactions at gun shows go through a licensed dealer.  That would help assure that buyers are properly identified, their qualifications are checked, and sales records are kept so that recovered guns can be successfully traced.

    Gun shows aren’t the only problem.  Traffickers from States with quantity limits (such as California’s one-handgun-a-month) frequently travel to States that lack restrictions, where they use local straw buyers to acquire guns from dealers.  That’s a problem that can only be addressed by instituting national purchase limits, and not just on handguns.
  • Combat in-State trafficking.  There is no such thing as Federal gun registration, and there will never be.  By law gun sales records are not centralized, making gun tracing a cumbersome process that requires successive contacts with manufacturers, distributors and dealers.  Failed traces, particularly for guns more than a few years old, are common.

    Fortunately, States are free to set up their own registration systems.  Every State should require that all gun transfers, including those between private parties, go through a dealer and be perpetually recorded on a centralized database.  To discourage straw purchase every gun recovered by police should be traced and its most recent purchaser contacted.  To discourage street gun dealing strict limits on the  number of weapons one can buy should be imposed.  False claims of theft by straw buyers and unlicensed street peddlers can be minimized by requiring gun owners to immediately report stolen firearms to police.
  • Redirect ATF towards its regulatory responsibilities.  ATF is the only Federal agency charged with regulating gun dealers and combating gun trafficking.  Yet thanks to political pressures most of its law enforcement resources are directed towards other ends.  Great effort is expended at “adopting” felon-with-a-gun and armed drug dealer cases from local police for prosecution in Federal court.  This distracts agents from breaking up trafficking rings, probing suspicious activities at gun shows and monitoring licensed dealers for signs of corruption.

    Politics have paralyzed ATF’s oversight role.  For proof look no further than the saga of the agency’s leader, Michael J. Sullivan.  Thanks to rabid opposition from the NRA and the gun industry, which accuse him of being an overzealous regulator, Sullivan remains an “Acting Director,” unconfirmed more than two years into his appointment.  Other than for a per diem allowance, his only pay is from his “real” job as United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     Anyone who thinks that the President-elect will have a substantial impact on guns and violence is dreaming.  As the expiration of the Federal assault weapons ban demonstrates, powerful political forces on both sides of Congress are committed to making guns as easy to buy as candy.  States and municipalities that try to fill the gap face the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, which enshrined gun possession as an individual right.  Our only hope is that under a new Administration ATF will find the courage to enforce the laws and regulations that exist.


3/5/18  In the New York Times, an excellent, illustrated feature about the damage inflicted on the human body by ultra high-velocity projectiles such as those fired by AR-15 style rifles.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Ban the Damned Things!     Massacre Control     Do Gun Laws Work?     By Hook or by Crook (Part II)

By Hook or By Crook     The Elephant in the Room     Say Something     Gun Control is Dead

Looking Beyond the Gun Barrel     Bigger Guns Aren’t Enough     Safe at Home, Not!     Gun Crazy

Don’t Blame the NRA     Hillary Shoots Duck     Shoot First, Then Reload     Disturbed Person


Mayors Report on private & Internet gun sales     Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market

Milwaukee Journal on Dealer Oversight     VPC on “big boomer” handguns     Sources of Crime Guns

Posted 11/9/08


Gun laws are way down the new Administration’s list of priorities

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. One hates to say so, but perhaps the silliest reaction to the outcome of the Presidential election came from the gun control community.  In a breathless communiqué, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence characterized President-elect Obama’s slim margin in the popular vote (52.5 to 46.2 percent for McCain, with the balance for third party candidates) as a stunning defeat for the NRA’s forces of evil.  That view was quickly endorsed by the peculiarly named “Freedom States Alliance,” which boasted that voters demanding “sensible solutions” had “shot down” the NRA’s “radical agenda.”

     Sure, many of the NRA’s favorite candidates lost.  Anyone old enough to vote knows that gun crazies favor candidates who vehemently oppose gun regulation, and these often turn out to be Republicans.  But let’s face it: guns had nothing to do with an election whose outcome was preordained by the financial meltdown.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     When an economic disaster the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression yields such as pitifully slim victory, it’s powerful evidence that the electorate remains deeply conservative. Don’t buy it?  Go to the New York Times’ electoral map and slide the pointer from ‘92 to ‘04.  Notice how red things were getting.  Four years later, in that bastion of liberalism known as California, the same voters who helped shift things blue also amended their State Constitution to prohibit gay marriage.

     Really, folks, if it wasn’t for the rotten economy we’d be setting up an oxygen tent in the White House and practicing how to say “gosh darn it!”.

     Still not convinced?  According to the Gallup poll a majority of Americans are satisfied with gun laws as they are, oppose making handguns illegal, and feel that guns make homes safer.  They also support restricting abortion, “overwhelmingly oppose efforts to make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens” and are against making marriage between same-sex partners legal.  Asked to name ten priorities, they rank Iraq, terrorism and the economy as the top three.  Immigration comes in fifth; morality, eighth.  Gun violence may be of concern to the good burghers of Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati, but nationally it’s not even on the charts.

     If the silliest response to the election was the anti-gunners’, the second most exaggerated came from -- you guessed it -- the dark side.  Only weeks after the Supreme Court upheld an individual right to possess firearms the NRA was already pouting about the President-elect’s intentions to “ban guns and drive law-abiding firearm manufacturers and dealers out of business.”

     Just what are his heart-stopping recommendations?

  • Tiahrt Amendment.  Imposed in 2003 to put an end to lawsuits against the gun industry, Tiahrt denies plaintiffs the ATF records they need to prove that manufacturers and distributors have been recklessly marketing their wares.  (Tiahrt was followed in 2005 by the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act,” which prohibits lawsuits against gun makers and distributors for gun misuse.)  To make sure that it’s not circumvented, Tiahrt also keeps police from obtaining information about gun sources outside their geographical area, thus shielding traffickers from detection and prosecution.
  • Gun-show loophole.  Persons who buy firearms from licensed dealers at gun shows must submit to a criminal records check.  Those who buy them from private parties need not.    Closing the loophole would make all buyers subject to screening.

    How this would “ban guns” is hard to understand.  Other than prohibiting residents of one State from selling guns to residents of another, the Federal government doesn’t regulate private gun transactions.  In most States (but not California, where private gun sales are illegal) one can go to a gun show and buy as many guns as they wish from private parties, with no need to present any identification whatsoever.

    Advocates claim that closing the “loophole” would keep felons, juveniles and adjudicated mental defectives from acquiring guns.  Sadly, it would probably have little effect, as all that a prohibited buyer would have to do is bring along a qualified friend.  Street gun peddlers love to buy from private sellers at gun shows because they can remain anonymous and the weapons can’t be traced.  These far more significant “loopholes” wouldn’t be addressed by forcing everyone to submit to records checks, as these must by law be purged once a sale is completed.
  • Assault weapons ban.  President-elect Obama’s final recommendation would reinstate the ban that expired in 2004.  Signed into law ten years earlier, it prohibited the sale of enumerated semi-automatic firearms such as the Colt AR-15, as well as other weapons with two or more of certain features, such as a pistol grip, a bayonet mount and a flash suppressor.  External magazines with a capacity greater than ten rounds were also outlawed.

    So what happened?  Manufacturers yawned.  Colt stripped the AR-15 of its flash suppressor, renamed it the “Sporter” and went right back to business.  Characteristics that really do affect lethality -- caliber, muzzle velocity, cyclic rate, accuracy at range -- were never addressed by the ban.  Reinstating it hardly seems worth the bother.

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     In this badly divided nation firearms have been a surrogate in a culture war that’s replayed every four years.  When President-elect Obama criticized our tendency to “cling” to guns and religion he got it perfectly right.  It was an amazingly insightful and honest comment that he will never repeat in public, and which he will never, ever try to express through meaningful gun control legislation.

UPDATES (scroll)

12/20/23  ᅠWhen police recover a gunthey can ask ATF to “trace” it from its manufacture to retail sale to identify the buyer and, hopefully, other persons through whose hands the weapon passed. But a rider on the yearly ATF appropriations bill known as the “Tiahrt Amendment” prohibits ATF from disseminating general trace data and identifying the distributors and dealers involved. Baltimore, which has no legal gun dealers in the city, is suing ATF to get this information and identify the out-of-area gun dealers that serve as sources for weapons recovered in the city and adjacent communities.

7/30/21  Despite bankrupt Remington Arm’s offer to settle for $33 million, the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre are demanding all of the company’s documents relating to the lawsuit. Their position, they say, will prevail, since they claim that the Federal “Protection of Commerce” law doesn’t shield Remington as it violated Connecticut law by purposely marketing the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle used in the attack to appeal to persons who would be prone to its misuse.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


A Matter of Life and Death     By Hook or by Crook (Part II)     By Hook or By Crook

Assault Weapons: The Issue of Lethality     A Different Perspective on Waiting Periods

The Elephant in the Room     Say Something     Bigger Guns Aren’t Enough     Long Live Gun Control

Looking Beyond the Gun Barrel     Safe at Home, Not!     Gun Crazy     Don’t Blame the NRA

Hillary Shoots Duck     Shoot First, Then Reload     Disturbed Person

Posted 3/23/08


Caught up in the gun-rights debate, the Solicitor-General punts

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  If you correctly guessed “Solicitor General of the United States” it’s probably because you’ve read about District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court case that will conclusively decide whether the Second Amendment really does guarantee an individual right to possess firearms.

     As they say, the Devil’s in the details.  Rejecting arguments that gun rights are tied to militia service and that “arms” then and now meant something inherently different, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Parker V. District of Columbia that an absolute prohibition on handguns infringes on the Second Amendment.  In their decision, the first to find that the amendment had separable meanings, the judges nonetheless emphasized that they only intended to prohibit bans, not reasonable regulation. Outlawing concealed weapons and gun possession by felons was fine; even gun registration and proficiency testing could pass muster.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Not so fast, says Dick Cheney.  Now that the ball’s in the ultimate court, he and his gun-loving pals want more: they’re asking for a comprehensive ruling that not only affirms an individual right to bear arms but requires that all gun laws pass the test of “strict scrutiny”, the same threshold that’s used to resolve First Amendment disputes.  According to knowledgeable observers this would set a bar so high as to make gun control well-nigh impossible.

     That puts Clement in a bind.  In the present political atmosphere, one might expect the Solicitor General to bend to the all-powerful Veep’s will.  Indeed, as the transcript of oral arguments demonstrates, affirming an individual right to bear arms was literally the first thing that he did.  But Clement can’t just be an Oval Office mouthpiece -- his office has a statutory duty to defend the laws that Congress enacts.  These happen to include Gun Control Act of 1968, which does everything from regulating gun dealers to prohibiting the possession of machineguns.

     Caught between an Administration that suspects his loyalty and a Supreme Court that’s leaning so far right it could wipe out gun regulation altogether, all that Clement can hope for is that the justices follow Chief Justice Roberts’ suggestion to forego imposing all-encompassing legal tests and leave gun laws to sort themselves out on a case by case basis.  Naturally, should the concept of an individual right to possess firearms prevail -- and that’s clearly where the Chief Justice and his right-tilting colleagues are headed -- the Justice Department would face the nightmarish prospect of defending gun laws one by one, ad infinitum.  Instead of a sudden demise it would be death by a thousand cuts.

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     Incidentally, on the day after the Court heard oral arguments, a middle-aged man upset at his eviction from a Virginia Beach apartment used a MAC 9mm. pistol and an AK-47 type rifle to kill a 32-year old mother of two and an elderly immigrant, wounding three others, one critically, before turning the weapon on himself.  For purposes of comparison above are images of the kind of pistol commonly in use in December 1791, when the Second Amendment went into effect, and the legal guns used by the Virginia Beach man two-hundred seventeen years later.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     

Posted 2/17/08


Why arming the public is no solution

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. On Saturday, February 16, only two days after a psycho youth murdered five students at Northern Illinois University, Presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton responded to a question on the tragedy with a breezy comment about keeping guns from the mentally ill.  Although that’s an objective that even the mighty N.R.A. endorses, our would-be prez quickly reassured her Wisconsin audience that she would never do anything to “infringe the right” of lawful gun owners; after all, she once shot a duck!

     After the murder of thirty-two at Virginia Tech in April 2007, the Delaware State University shooting in September, the Cleveland high school shooting in October, and the Louisiana Tech, Oxnard high school and N.I.U. shootings this month, to say nothing of the countless killings that didn’t happen on school grounds, one would think that Hillary, Barack, John, the lot of ‘em would be eagerly proposing solutions for the problem of gun violence in the U.S.A.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Alas, our brave candidates’ silence on this pressing issue is so deafening that one could hear a firing pin drop.  In the meantime, the crazies who encourage arming Americans to the teeth have been far less shy to press their case.  Carrying a concealed weapon, a privilege once restricted to police, is now open to citizens in nearly every State.  Applying usually calls for nothing more than submitting fingerprints, passing a computerized record check and completing a brief firearms proficiency course.  Issuing a CCW permit is normally mandatory.  Fortunately, nearly every State has either outlawed guns on campus or allowed schools to decide.  One exception is Utah.  Its laws, which don’t prohibit carrying guns in educational institutions, have been interpreted to pre-empt local restrictions.  So for those who feel the need to carry an Uzi under their graduation robes, it’s presently the only place to go.

     But even that’s changing.  Guns are coming to schools, and legally.  Turning the meaning of events such as Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois on their head, legislators everywhere are rushing to reaffirm the rights of concealed-carry permit holders to pack guns anywhere they like.  For example, in South Dakota, where it’s possible to secure a temporary CCW permit in five days, the House just passed a measure that enshrines the rights of students and faculty to carry guns on campus.  Its sponsor, Representative Thomas Brunner, a proponent of the theory that “the only remedy for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” says that his daughter needs a pistol to protect herself during that lonely and treacherous half-mile walk from the parking lot to her dorm.

     School administrators and police chiefs -- those who have to deal with the real world -- are horrified.  In Arizona, where another take-a-gun-to-school measure is under consideration, the president of the Board of Regents, a self-proclaimed supporter of the Second Amendment, said it all: “when you have 18- to 25-year-old kids with guns in their pockets, it's just a recipe for disaster.”

     Well, what of it?  Are “good guys with guns” more likely to help or hurt?  Garrett Evans, a student shot during the Virginia Tech massacre (his sister was killed) thinks that arming students is a “crazy” notion, that events happened so quickly that no one could have possibly intervened.  At Northern Illinois University the shooting was also over in seconds, campus police reportedly arriving within two minutes.  One can only imagine the confusion and carnage that would erupt should a bunch of startled CCW permit holders reach into their pockets, briefcases and purses and try to exchange fire with some lunatic in a crowded classroom.  What police officer in their right mind would step into that scene?

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     It doesn’t matter where one falls on the ideological spectrum, as at heart this isn’t a political issue: it’s a matter of sanity -- and we’re not talking the shooter’s.  Unless our addled Presidential candidates wake up from their N.R.A.-induced comas and start speaking to the truth, guns on campus is a bizarre Ramboesque fantasy that’s likely to come true.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Assault Weapons: The Issue of Lethality       A Different Perspective on Waiting Periods

The Elephant in the Room     Say Something     Gun Control is Dead     Long Live Gun Control

Looking Beyond the Gun Barrel     Safe at Home, Not!     Gun Crazy     Don’t Blame the NRA

Shoot First, Then Reload     Disturbed Person

Posted 1/17/08


State “castle laws” greatly expand the meaning of self-defense

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Bad people are going to get away with murder.”  That’s what a Missouri prosecutor said after changes in State law reluctantly led him to accept a plea for involuntary manslaughter from a defendant he was certain was guilty of murder.  Under pressure from the NRA and a newly energized, gun-toting public more than a dozen States have enacted “stand your ground” laws in the last two years.  Also called “Castle” laws, the statutes typically declare that anyone who unlawfully enters a home or vehicle is presumably a threat to its legitimate occupants, and authorizes those lawfully present to use deadly force to repel the invader, with no duty to back down, and with full immunity from lawsuits and prosecution.

     Now many States, including Missouri, Florida and Texas have extended the doctrine from homes and vehicles to wherever someone happens to legally be, in effect giving private individuals the same authority to use deadly force as a peace officer.  Opposing the legislation, Texas prosecutors unsuccessfully argued that it could make it difficult to prosecute gangsters and trigger-happy persons who kill maliciously or needlessly.  Their predictions seem to have come true.  Eight months later a cranky old Texas man toting a shotgun ignored a 911 dispatcher’s pleas and fired on two burglars leaving his neighbor’s house, killing both (they turned out to be unarmed).  Naturally, the shooter, whom his attorney says is deeply remorseful, now claims that he felt threatened.  And since one of the burglars was struck full-on in the chest, who’s to say otherwise?  The case presently sits in the DA’s office, which will decide whether to present it to a grand jury.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

      Similar dilemmas are playing out elsewhere.  In a single week in late 2007 residents of Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, shot two suspected burglars dead and wounded a third.  Each episode was found to be in compliance with Mississippi’s self-defense laws, which were revised in 2006 to provide that anyone who unlawfully enters a home, vehicle or place of business presumably intends to harm its occupants and can be repelled with deadly force (Mississippi code, 97-3-15).  Interestingly, one of the shooters, a convicted felon, faces Federal prosecution after ATF agents who learned of the incident searched his home, finding a gun and drugs.

     Are these new laws a good thing?  Many think not.  Upset that Kentucky’s Castle law forced a plea bargain in what seemed a legitimate murder case, a State judge complained that the legislation was enacted “without a single attorney looking at it.”  Her opinion -- that the legislation was superfluous, as the legitimate use of self-defense is already permitted by law -- has been echoed by law enforcement, prosecutors and gun control advocates, who worry that liberalizing self-defense laws will promote violence.

     On the other hand, the line between necessary and excessive force can be blurry.  According to the NRA, a main purpose of Castle laws is to keep citizens from being needlessly sued and prosecuted.  There’s no question that some otherwise law-abiding citizens have gone to prison despite offering plausible claims of self-defense.  In 2006 an Arizona jury convicted Harold Fish of second-degree murder for shooting and killing a hiker whom Fish claims attacked him after he fired a shot to warn off one of the man’s dogs.  In sentencing Fish to the minimum possible term -- ten years without parole -- the judge said “this case does give new meaning to the word tragedy.  I do believe [the defendant] reacted out of fear and instinct when he shot and killed Grant Kuenzli.  He made a split second decision with tragic consequences.”

     In an increasing number of States “stand your ground” laws and liberal CCW rules give virtually every citizen without a felony conviction the tools and authority to use deadly force whenever and wherever they choose.  Considering the the pitifully minimal screening that concealed-carry laws require, and the kinds of characters who would sling arms while going to the drugstore and the movies, one has to be concerned with the consequences of encouraging these would-be Rambos to play cop.

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     Oh, yes.  In the interests of full disclosure, this writer never “packed” when off-duty and happily gave up his toys when he retired.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


When a Pharmacist Kills

Posted 12/12/07


Neither SWAT nor armed citizens are a solution
to the threat posed by assault weapons

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the AK-47, the weapon designed by the famous General Mikhail T. Kalashnikov to help Communists win the struggle against Western imperialism.  From the jungles of Southeast Asia to the killing fields of America’s inner cities, the simple, reliable weapon became an instant hit.  Now the battleground has expanded into the epicenters of capitalist consumption. We’re talking, of course, about shopping malls.

     It’s unlikely that the 19-year old gunman who murdered five in a Nebraska mall last week knew anything about the political history of the gun in his grasp.  What little is known paints him as a mentally disturbed teen playing out his demons in the established pattern: grab a gun and lots of ammo, go to a place where people gather and shoot as many innocent strangers as you can.  Then reload.

     What’s to be done?  Apparently, nothing.  Thanks to permissive laws that make it virtually impossible to force anyone to accept treatment, the mentally ill are left to medicate themselves, or not, and the rest of us are left to duck and cover.  (Anyone who thinks that’s too harsh an assessment should go be a cop or social worker, then report back.)

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     If we can’t do anything about individuals, what about guns?  Oh, please!  When a weak, loophole-ridden piece of legislation like the Federal assault weapons ban expires and even the Democrats applaud, there is absolutely no hope of regulating ourselves out of this mess.  Now, it’s true that a handful of States, including California, have laws that make high-caliber, high-capacity shoulder-fired weapons less available.  But since these can be legally purchased elsewhere (e.g., Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Washington, etc.), with no ID required when buying from private parties or at gun shows, the impact of localized restrictions is negligible.

     Wackos and assault rifles are an impossibly lethal combination.  Handguns have limited range and projectiles of moderate caliber can be defeated by quality ballistic garments.  But rifle cartridges are far more powerful, imparting a velocity, hence energy, that allows most bullets beyond a .22 short to penetrate ordinary ballistic vests (those that can stop rifle rounds are far too heavy and cumbersome to wear on patrol).  The large magazine capacities and high cyclic rates of civilian assault-type rifles can pin down anyone reckless enough to advance on a shooter.  That’s what LAPD discovered during the infamous North Hollywood shootout of February 28, 1997, when two bank robbers armed with a 9mm pistol and five semi-auto rifles (several made full auto, an illegal but often simple conversion) held off platoons of cops, wounding eight officers and five civilians.

     According to the FBI, only 4% of firearms murders in the U.S. between 2002-06 were committed with rifles.  But for killings of police, the figure was 18%.  Why are officers disproportionately vulnerable to long gun fire?  FBI data reveals relatively few through-the-vest shots.  But there’s something else that makes rifles so lethal.  It’s the ability to accurately place a shot at distance, in the most vulnerable part of the body and the one most difficult to protect: the head.  Between 1997-2006, 58% of officers killed by gunfire died from head or neck wounds (gun type wasn’t specified.)  A tragic, well-known Southern California example is the February 1994 murder of LAPD Officer Christy Hamilton, struck with a .223 caliber round fired from an AR-15 rifle.  Her assailant, a 17-year old youth who murdered his father, then committed suicide.

     Many police agencies shifted tactics after Columbine.  It’s now common for cops to carry rifles, and when there is an “active shooter” they don’t necessarily wait for SWAT.  But impulsively going after a madman with a rifle is incredibly dangerous.  If the bad guy takes cover and simply waits a dead or wounded officer is likely.  Even if the good guys ultimately triumph, by the time that police arrive or the shooter kills himself it’s usually too late.

     So what’s the solution?  Only days after Nebraska a disaffected 24-year old wielding a rifle, two handguns, a pair of smoke grenades and a backpack full of ammunition shot nine and killed four in Colorado.  His spree was finally brought to an end by an armed ex-Minnneapolis cop working as an armed security guard.  Setting aside that it was a guard with police experience, the event was instantly seen as confirmation of the value of citizens carrying guns.  But consider another example.  In November 2005 Brendan McKown, 38, a CCW permit holder with no police experience drew his pistol as Dominick Maldonado was shooting up the Tacoma Mall with an AK-47.  Not wanting to kill a “kid,” McKown put his gun away and tried to talk Maldonado into giving up.  Maldonado aimed the rifle.  McKown went for his pistol, but before he could get it out he was shot multiple times, leaving him a paraplegic.  (In all, six citizens were shot; McKown was the most seriously injured.  Maldonado  got a life sentence.)

Be sure to check out our homepage and sign up for our newsletter

     In the end, neither SWAT teams nor armed citizens are a realistic solution to the threat posed by assault rifles.  Thanks to our culture’s infatuation with guns and politicians’ reluctance to call a halt to the insane escalation of firepower, we’re entering an era where no one is safe from angry young men and their killing machines.  Do we really want our cities to turn into Baghdads?  Whatever one’s views on the Second Amendment, this cannot be what the Founding Fathers intended.

UPDATES (scroll)

10/5/18  A 74-year old veteran and disbarred lawyer who bragged about his abilities with military-style rifles unleashed a barrage from “a high powered rifle” on officers serving a search warrant at his Florence, South Carolina residence. One officer was killed and six were wounded. Five citizens were also hurt. Police deployed an armored vehicle to extricate the injured. More

3/11/18 In the New York Times and Washington Post, illustrated features about the grievous damage inflicted on the human body by ultra high-velocity projectiles such as those fired by AR-15 style rifles.

Did you enjoy this post?  Be sure to explore the homepage and topical index!

Home   Top   Permalink     Print/Save     Feedback     


Loopholes are (Still) Lethal     Another Day, Another Massacre     Red Flag (I) (II)

Ban the Damned Things!     A Lost Cause     A Matter of Life and Death     All in the Family

Coming Clean in Santa Barbara     Cops Need More Than Body Armor     Homeless, Mentally Ill, Dead

Bigger Guns Aren’t Enough


The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market

  < More recent                                               


     Home           About           Index           Links          For educators          Contact          Novel