Are you sure you want to reach for the old equalizer?
Here are today’s front page headlines in the Washington Post, “Loughner appears in federal court” and “An ill-tempered debate about vitriol’s role.” The lead on the editorial page is “Getting control of guns, If only Political leaders would act,” and the five columns on the Op-ed page: George Will “Charlatan’s blame game,” Michael Gerson, “Small man, terrible act,” Dana Milbank “A McKinley moment?” Richard Cohen “Blame the guns,” and Eugene Robinson “Don’t retreat on gun control.”
I suppose I should read them all, but what could they say that we haven’t all heard before. Actually one or more of them could stray far from the main point. George Will takes Charles Blow of the NYT to task for insinuating some time last year “that conservatives are misogynistic, homophobic, racist anti-Semites. I can live with that, but it seems to give poor George a problem.
When we’re talking about whether or not Sarah and Rush and Glenn were somehow at fault here, it’s obvious that most people can understand that the cross-hairs and the incitement to reload were metaphoric. The problem is that there are too many out there, who take Sarah and Rush and Glenn literally, and some of them act on what they hear. The Secret Service has been so effective in protecting Presidents because they stomp on anyone who threatens a President, but this is beyond them.
As for gun control itself, Eugene Robinson says don’t retreat. Right. Why bother when we have already surrendered? Something from an interview of an LA gang member that I heard years ago stuck in my mind. When he was asked what he thought about gun control, he said: “We don’t care, man. We don’t buy guns. We steal them from people’s houses.”
Here is my modest proposal. We make it illegal for anyone to own a handgun. Since we couldn’t put everyone in prison who broke this law, we would have to come up with more imaginative penalties and do it without consulting John Yoo. My suggestion would be raising their federal income tax rate permanently to maybe 50% for a first offender and more for a repeater. When I discussed this with a friend this afternoon, I maintained that police officers should be required to check in their weapons when they went off duty. He didn’t like that, and I might be willing to compromise.
The end result of this radical social policy is that we would have the same situation they have in Japan. Hardly anyone ever gets shot. The only people who have guns are the police and the criminals. In this situation, it is my belief that criminals would normally handle their weapons responsibly and only use them to commit crimes. That would be no better and no worse than the situation now. As for society at large, husbands who want to kill their wives and children would have to use an axe which is cumbersome and might give some of the kids a chance to escape, and the lonely young men who want to assassinate politicians or shoot up a classroom full of people would have to learn to use explosives or other means. A Glock with a 30 round clip is just too easy.
What do we do about my brother in western Colorado? He’s a hunter and a fisherman. He’s got a bunch of guns which he keeps in a safe and he has taken courses in gun safety and marksmanship. When he goes into the woods, which may be several times a week, he always has a pistol on his hip. Recently he obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon, because the only way he could keep his gun dry when he was fishing was to put it inside his waders. He knows what he’s doing. He worked for BLM as a fire fighter and for the Forest Service, often in cooperation with federal law enforcement officers. In the places he goes, there is no law enforcement. You can’t call 911. You are on your own. One problem is that there are marijuana patches in the woods. If the growers find you, they just kill you. And there are plenty of other bad people up there.
So there would have to be exceptions to any draconian law that took away people’s guns and of course there would be problems where the strong tried to dominate the weak, but for those who want to reach for the old equalizer, you might try to remember that bad people are likely to have bigger guns than good people.