Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gun Control

Carl M. Cannon at Real Clear Politics has an excellent column in the wake of the Aurora shootings in which he ponders the question whether there are too many guns or too few.

Shortly into his essay he sums up the problem:
After last week’s horrific shootings inside a movie house in suburban Denver, Americans did what they always do in such circumstances: We moved in two different directions at once.

Many people decried the ease with which firearms can be obtained in this country by unbalanced people with no business playing with matches, let alone high-powered rifles. Others went out and bought a gun. And some did both.

These are contradictory impulses, but they both make sense. Many ordinary Americans, unlike our polarized and linear political parties, can hold two competing ideas in their minds at the same time. In the aftermath of the “Dark Knight” killings in Aurora, those two thoughts were as follows:

(1) It is far too easy for mentally unstable individuals to acquire deadly firearms in this country.

(2) The only person known to be packing heat in that multiplex last week was the killer, and, God forbid, if a similar situation ever arises, carrying a loaded gun would at least give me a fighting chance.

So this week legal gun sales, along with applications of “carry and conceal” permits, spiked upward -- just as they did after Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting in Tucson in January 2011. One factor at play? Fear that President Obama intends to push for stricter gun controls.
It is indeed too hard to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, and that's the problem with almost any form of gun control. It simply won't work. The only people who'll obey the laws are the people who obey laws. Those inclined to use a gun illegally will not scruple at doing something illegal to obtain one.

Cannon relates a number of stories about how guns have been used both illegally to murder and legally to protect, one of the most interesting of which coincidentally occurred in Colorado five years ago.
A rampage shooting at the Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, Colo., the night before had taken two lives and left a third man critically wounded. The crime scene was 70 miles from the Colorado Springs campus of the New Life Church. But the killer had escaped into the snowy night, and one member of the congregation -- former Minnesota policewoman Jeanne Assam -- had an ominous feeling he might strike again.

Acting on her instincts, Assam urged the church pastors to post volunteer guards -- some of them armed -- at Sunday services at the sprawling mega-church. And at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2007, Jeanne Assam’s premonition came true.

The Arvada gunman, 24-year-old Matthew J. Murray, showed up just after the 11 a.m. worship service at New Life had ended. He began blazing away in the parking lot, killing two teenage sisters and wounding their father and another woman. Unloading two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle from his car -- along with 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a backpack -- he headed into the church’s foyer.

Hearing the gunfire in the parking lot, Assam drew her licensed pistol from its holster and headed toward the gunman . . .

Two church members ran toward the sound of the guns that day. The first was Jeanne Assam, the former Minneapolis policewoman. The second was Larry Bourbonnais, a Vietnam veteran. Assam was armed, Bourbonnais was not.

“Where’s the shooter? Where’s the shooter?” Bourbonnais shouted. He found him near the entryway to the church. Between him and the mad gunman was an armed male parishioner who’d been pressed into service as a security guard. He had his weapon drawn, but was not firing.

“Give me your gun!” Bourbonnais shouted. “I’ve been in combat. I’m going to take this guy out.”

But the guard would neither give Bourbonnais his gun, nor use it himself. “Get behind me,” was all he said to the frustrated Vietnam vet, who was then shot in the arm by Murray.

Just then, Assam approached. She walked calmly and rapidly toward the gunman shouting at him to surrender. Instead, he opened fire. So did Assam. She felled Murray who, seriously wounded, then turned his own gun on himself.

It’s no disgrace for an untrained person to fail to fire when confronted with the sudden and unexpected choice of whether to kill another human being. It’s perhaps a sign of mental health, or, at least, of inward grace, to hesitate in such a circumstance. Killing strangers, no matter the provocation, is not a natural act.

And yet, many people were in that huge Colorado Springs church that Sunday, and no matter where one stands on the issue of gun control, it must also be said -- and New Life senior pastor Brady Boyd did say it -- that Jeanne Assam and her gun may have saved a hundred lives.
Cannon's article is worth reading in its entirety. It does a good job of describing the perplexity we feel over this issue. Meanwhile, there's also this report in the news yesterday:
A citizen with a gun stopped a knife wielding man as he began stabbing people Thursday evening at the downtown Salt Lake City Smith's store.

Police say the suspect purchased a knife inside the store and then turned it into a weapon. Smith's employee Dorothy Espinoza says, "He pulled it out and stood outside the Smiths in the foyer. And just started stabbing people and yelling you killed my people. You killed my people."

Espinoza says, the knife wielding man seriously injured two people. "There is blood all over. One got stabbed in the stomach and got stabbed in the head and held his hands and got stabbed all over the arms."

Then, before the suspect could find another victim - a citizen with a gun stopped the madness. "A guy pulled gun on him and told him to drop his weapon or he would shoot him. So, he dropped his weapon and the people from Smith's grabbed him."

By the time officers arrived the suspect had been subdued by employees and shoppers. Police had high praise for the gun-carrying man who ended the hysteria. Lt. Brian Purvis said, "This was a volatile situation that could have gotten worse. We can only assume from what we saw it could have gotten worse. He was definitely in the right place at the right time."

Dozens of other shoppers, who too could have become victims, are also thankful for the gun carrying man. And many, like Danylle Julian, are still in shock from the experience. "Scary actually. Really scary. Five minutes before I walk out to my car. It could have been me."
I wonder how many of those shoppers who were so thankful that the unnamed man had a gun were people who, a half hour before, believed fervently that people shouldn't be allowed to carry firearms.