Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lax gun laws

Today my friend Bill Crawford says:
The question on everyone's mind today is, do stricter gun laws prevent crime?

While I disagree with his answer, I think it is also the wrong question to ask.
This is the question on most people’s minds today:

The Big Question: Is there a link between America's lax gun laws and the high murder rate?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

The massacre at Virginia Tech has, yet again, focused attention on the culture of guns and the ease of obtaining firearms in America, an unending source of amazement to most of the rest of the world. Roughly 29,000 people are killed by firearms every year - 10 times as many as died on September 11, 2001. Of the victims, some 11,000 are murdered, 17,000 use a gun to commit suicide, and almost 1,000 die in accidents. Some sub-statistics are even more disturbing. Every day three children under 19 die from a gun wound. Across the country, roughly 1,000 crimes involving firearms are committed every 24 hours. The rampage of Cho Seung-Hui, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, will merely add one suicide and 33 murders (at the latest count) to these grim totals.

Robert Reich made this astute observation today juxtaposing the easy access to semi-automatic handguns with strict regulation for anti-depressant medications:

In the United States, if you are seriously depressed, you can purchase anti-depressive drugs like Prozac, but only if you have a prescription from a doctor. Anti-depressants are enormously beneficial to millions of people but they are also potentially dangerous if used improperly. So you have to see a doctor and get an assessment before can go to a drug store and purchase one.
But in the United States, in places like Virginia, a seriously depressed or deranged person can walk into a gun store and buy a semi-automatic handgun and a box of ammunition. The only limitation in Virginia is you cannot buy more than one handgun a month and you must present two forms of identification. You don’t need permission from a doctor or counselor or anyone in the business of screening people to make sure they’re fit to have a gun.
We can debate the relative benefits and dangers of anti-depressants and semi-automatic handguns, but if 30,000 Americans were killed each year by anti-depressants, as they are by handguns, it seems likely that anti-depressants would be even more strictly regulated than they are now.

I would support a ban on semi-automatic handguns similar to the one they enacted in Australia back in 1996.
There is absolutely no need for anyone in the general public to own a semi-automatic handgun. They are not used for hunting. You don’t need one to defend your house against a burglar. The only thing they are really good for is committing mass murders. At the very minimum, access to these types of weapons should be heavily regulated requiring licensing and extensive background checks so that collectors and sporting enthusiasts might still have access to them, but not so that a mentally deranged college student can walk in on a moment’s notice and walk out with one plus a box of 50 cartridges in under 20 minutes.

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