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Drop those guns.

The report that a sniper firing at random killed an Olympic runner on the track at Washington State University a few weeks ago reminded us of a far more bloody incident that took place this summer. Armed with an Uzi assult rifle (purchased for $500 from a mail-order house in Nebraska), a 12-gauge pump shotgun and a 9-millimeter Browning pistol, James Oliver Huberty wiped out twenty-one men, women and children patronizing a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California. Huberty, a hot-tempered gun freak from Ohio, had mental problems and a history of trouble with the law. A few hours before he slung his rifle on his shoulder and headed for the restaurant, he told his wife, "Society had its chance."

We must ask if society had any chance, given the absence of laws that would disarm people like Huberty. We live in a country with a President who is a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, which leads the fight against gun control of any kind. In 1984 the N.R.A. spent more than $2 million to elect pro-gun candidates, and such is its political clout that it has blocked the first meaningful handgun-control measure to be introduced in years, the Kennedy-Rodino bill, which would have banned the domestic manufacture of Saturday Night Specials and the importation of the parts to make them. The gun lobby even stalled the unexceptionable Biaggi-Moynihan bill, which would have prohibited the manufacture, importation and sale of armor-piercing bullets, whose only conceivable use is to penetrate the bulletproof vests that police officers wear.

The N.R.A.'s opposition to a ban on the sale of the lethal projectiles is chilling proof, it any more was needed, of its egregious irresponsibility. Aside from representing the economic interests of the small-arms manufacturers, its function is to say Boo! whenever Congress responds to public cries for gun control. Every one of its arguments against stricter laws is legally and socially bankrupt.

The most popular one exploits the fear of crime among Americans. Gun control, it goes, would disarm the good guys and allow the bad guys to pillage their homes. That is, at best, a one-tenth truth. As The New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, 90 percent of all burglaries are committed when the residents are not home. Moreover, guns in the house increase the danger of accidents and crimes of passion. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 47 percent of all murders in 1983 were committed "by relatives or persons acquainted with the victims." (See Jervis Anderson, The New Yorker, November 12.) The National Coalition to Ban Handguns points to another significant F.B.I. finding: of 498 justifiable homicides in 1981, 221 involved a civilian using a handgun against a stranger, presumably an intruder. That same year, according to the Bureau, there were 24,000 handgun fatalities--a high price to pay for defending those 221 households.

The N.R.A. and its fellow gun-lobbyists also invoke the Second Amendment, the so-called "right to bear arms." This is President Reagan's favorite civil right; he praised the N.R.A. at its convention in May 1983 for not backing down "one inch from defending the constitutional freedoms that are every American's birthright." But the Supreme Court held in 1939 that the right to bear arms applies only to organized militias, i.e., the National Guard, not to individual citizens. When the town of Morton Grove, Illinois, passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of handguns in 1981, the N.R.A. challenged it under the Second Amendment and lost. The appeal as denied in the Federal courts, and this March the Supreme Court refused to review those decisions.

The gun lobby also disseminates scare propaganda that "they" will "take your guns away," that legitimate hunters and hobbyists will be barred from pursuing their avocations. That, of course, is hogwash, since no antigun organization proposes a ban on rifles. The N.R.A.'s argument that a well-armed citizenry is a check on totalitarianism is even more farfetched. With reasonable gun-control laws there would still be enough hardware around for today's minute-men to defend themselves against Red invaders, aliens or whomever they're afraid of.

We need a new politics of gun control. As the people of Morton Grove and Oak Park Illinois, of Palm Beach and Broward Country, Florida, have shown by approving gun-control laws over N.R.A. opposition, the local level is the place

to begin. Eventually, the majority of Americans, who want national gun-control laws--and only a national ban can stop the weapons traffic across state lines--will be represented by groups with the money and clout the N.R.A. now has. (The National Coalition on Ban Handguns and National Handgun Control are showing the way.)

When the President spoke to the N.R.A. convention, signs were posted forbidding "guns, knives, or tear gas" in the hall, and people entering were screened by metal detectors. If the President felt a little bit safer because of the security procedures (even if he was wearing his customary bulletproof vest), he didn't mention it. Instead he said, "It is a nasty truth, but those who seek to inflict harm are not fazed by gun-control laws. I happen to know this from personal experience." Greater love hath no politician than to put his life on the line for the "right to bear arms."
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Title Annotation:pro-gun lobbying by the National Rifle Association
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Words:899
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