Dear Ms. Stewart,
One of the most difficult things to do is to be objective about tragedies such as these. How do you tell someone who lost a child, other family member or a friend that the law they believe might have spared their loved one really wouldn’t have made a difference?
But my heart also goes out to a mother in Richmond, Indiana. A few weeks before Christmas, her son took some guns and forced her boyfriend to take him to the middle school he attended. She pleaded with her son to stop, but he refused. She called the school and let them know what was going on and that she was afraid her son intended to kill people in the school. The school immediately went on lockdown and authorities were notified. Local police and Indiana state troopers were arriving just when the young would-be shooter arrived. The youth exchanged fire with the officers and, finding the doors locked, shot through the door to gain entry. Once inside, he was confronted with more police. Thwarted in his plans, the young man committed suicide.
Even though she did the right thing and probably saved several lives, it cost that mother her son. That’s heart-breaking, too.
Sure, it’s easy to talk about safe storage of firearms but then we come to the shooting at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch. The father of one of the shooters had guns and they were locked in a steel cabinet. The two students used an axe and crowbar to gain access to the guns.
I think gun control is politically palatable, heavily promoted snake oil. It is not one whit different than the patent medicines peddled by hucksters in the traveling medicine shows of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It does nothing to help the problem because it doesn’t even address the problem. That’s because the problem has never been guns.
Semi-automatic pistols have been with us since the closing years of the 19th Century. Semi-automatic rifles were introduced in America in 1903, with a Winchester rifle that was marketed to hunters. Hunters were also the market for the first semi-automatic rifles with large-capacity magazines, which hit the market in 1911. The first pistol with a high-capacity magazine was introduced in 1935.
In the years following World War II and Korea, the U.S. government dumped hundreds of thousands of surplus semi-automatic rifles into the civilian market. Among these were M1 Carbines, which could accept high capacity magazines, had detachable flash hiders, and real bayonet attachment points. You could pick these up at F.W. Woolworth’s five-and-dimes for $25-$30. No paperwork, no background checks, and in some places, they weren’t even too particular about age.
When I was a kid, I was a Boy Scout. One of the benefits of being a scout was the subscription to Boy’s Life magazine. Every fall, ads would begin to appear telling readers to be sure to ask mom and dad for a rifle for Christmas. One I remember in particular was for the Remington Nylon 66 semi-automatic rifle in .22 Long Rifle.
This was normal. What wasn’t normal was mass shootings or school shootings. Yes, they did happen: There was one in New Jersey in 1949 and there were two in 1966; one in Austin and one near Phoenix.
So a higher percentage of Americans owned guns; guns were far less regulated in most states than they are now; and the available guns were every bit as lethal and as capable of shooting large numbers of people as the guns we have now. The AR-15 has been on the market since 1964; the semi-automatic versions of the AK-47 appeared in 1976.
So how are we doing at keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them? Actually, we’re doing a fairly crappy job.
Gun control advocates love to point to the large number of people who have failed background checks. What they fail to realize is that this doesn’t mean that those people couldn’t get firearms, it just means they couldn’t buy them from a federally licensed retailer.
In 2018, Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was killed by a 4-time convicted felon with a gun that was ultimately traced back to an unlicensed dealer in Wisconsin who sold guns on Armslist. The unlicensed dealer did not sell the gun illegally, he sold it to another Wisconsin resident in what would normally be a completely legal transfer. From there, the gun found its way to the killer.
The Wisconsin man ultimately was sentenced to three years in prison for selling guns without a license. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had previously contacted the man and informed him that he was obviously in the business of selling guns and that he needed to get the required federal license. The ATF even sent him the paperwork needed to apply.
Most online gun brokers, such as GunBroker.com require that all firearms be delivered through a federally licensed dealer. Certain old guns can be transferred directly to a collector holding a Curios and Relics license, but that is just a different type of federal license.
Armslist simply says that it is a only a brokerage and that those buying and selling guns through Armslist are expected to comply with all federal and state laws.
It would be a relatively simple matter for Congress and the legislatures of the 50 states to enact laws saying that all brokered online transfers must be delivered through a licensed dealer. That would cover both interstate and intrastate transfers and is well within the regulatory powers of the federal and state governments. Wonder why nobody has ever pushed for this?
Background check laws did not stop the Columbine killers from obtaining their firearms. In fact, the only persons who ever were convicted of an offense related to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were the persons involved in the illegal sales of handguns to them. Those convictions were for selling a handgun to a minor.
As of today, 582 people have been murdered and 1,088 people have been wounded by mass shooters who passed one or more background checks. Another 58 people were killed and 43 were injured by shooters who shouldn’t have been able to possess firearms but passed background checks because of missing information or an error in military policies. To top it off, 14 people died and seven more were wounded by killers who cleared to obtain their guns but were later determined to be prohibited persons. In those two cases, the law required the surrender or seizure of the guns but in one case, no attempt was made to retrieve the gun and in the other, nobody ever checked to see if the gun had been turned in after the owner had been notified that they were required to surrender their gun.
In total, nearly 1,800 people have been killed or injured despite the fact that background checks have been required since the end of February 1994.
It’s all well and good to say we should keep guns of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them but there is one big problem with that: We have no way to identify those people and there are no psychiatric or psychological “tags” that can identify a potential killer. If a person has had no serious contact with the criminal justice system, there is no record in the FBI’s background check system.
You, like many others, mention the United Kingdom. While it’s true that the typical constable on patrol doesn’t carry a firearm, they have far more “kit” than used to be the case. In addition, as best I can determine, there are more regularly armed police now than at any peacetime period since Robert Peel formed England’s first real police service in the early 19th Century. And they are armed with not just handguns but with submachine guns.
It’s also true that England has a very low incidence of firearm-related homicide but no one ever seems to mention that the country has always had a low rate of firearm-related homicide. However, that rosy image is tarnished by the fact that British police are currently dealing with near-record or record rates of knife crimes including a significant increase in stabbing deaths.
Incidentally, this is the root problem of the whole “gun violence” meme: if you’re not addressing violence as the problem, you will never find a way to reduce it. A person who is murdered with a killer’s bare hands is just as much a loss as one who dies at the hands of a killer with a gun. FWIW, a person in the United States is more than twice as likely to be perish literally at the hands of a killer than they are to be murdered with any type of rifle.
Ms. Miller, you suffered a grievous and very personal shock when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold unleashed their evil at Columbine High School. As a parent and a grandparent, I can sympathize, even if I can’t truly comprehend the wounds to your soul and psyche. Even as one who first became a gun owner 50 years ago this September, I can understand your response: if guns were used to kill the people at your child’s school, let’s get rid of them and anyone who doesn’t agree must be bad or heartless. The constitutional provision that people say protects an individual’s right to own a gun must be being misinterpreted; is outmoded; or needs to be eliminated.
However, there is a fundamental problem with that: the means don’t really matter. Without the desire to inflict harm, no harm will be inflicted; with the desire to inflict harm, there will always be a means to do it.