A short, disturbing yet funny, anecdote to illustrate the point I’m about to make.
About a year ago, a friend who teaches at the University of Toronto and I met for an after-work drink at the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt Regency Hotel. A Toronto landmark, the bar’s mahogany panels frame large windows looking south to the skyline of the financial district and Lake Ontario beyond.
As we sat enjoying single malt scotches, a trio of men wearing cowboy hats, string ties and western-style suits came in and sat near us. They’d just arrived by car from Montana and came to the bar for a drink while their wives went shopping. As their drinks arrived, one asked another, “Just wondering? Did you bring your gun? I did.”
My friend looked up to ask, “Did you say you brought handguns into Canada? Don’t you know they’re illegal up here?”
One gulped down his beer before replying with a sneer, “So what? I’m an American, mister, and I don’t go nowhere without my gun.”
Not wanting to tangle with three liquor-drinking, pistol-packing Pete’s, my pal let it drop. Moments later while waiting for the elevator, my friend used a pay phone to call the police. By the time we hit the street, three squad cars and the SWAT team were arriving. Our guess is that the Montanan’s spent the night in custody before being escorted to the border the next day.
Guns Killing People
The attitude of the Montanan’s is pervasive in the US even as Thursday marked the anniversary Virginia Tech massacre. As awful as the 32 deaths were, in the past month alone nearly 60 people – almost double the number of Virginia deaths – were killed in the US by gunfire and the count keeps rising. The total includes four police officers and, as a former San Francisco police chief once told me, “Somebody who’ll kill a cop will gun down anybody.”
But the death toll of 57 in America is swamped by the number of people – men, women, children, police, soldiers, gangsters and mostly innocents – killed over the same time in Mexico’s ugly drug wars. Many of the victims were murdered by handguns and assault rifles purchased in the US and smuggled across the border.
While in Mexico, President Obama told an audience that he recognizes the US is partially responsible for the killing fields to our south. Both our desire for dope and the ease with which anyone can sell murderous weapons like assault rifles and RPGs to total strangers are as much a part of the on-going massacre as is corruption in Mexico.
And yet the NRA and its apologists continue to blithely whistle “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” True – but without easy access guns-as-toys nobody would be killing anyone.
The fact is that the NRA is almost solely responsible for the ease with which weapons can be sold, bought and used in America. As a result, it is nothing less than a terrorist organization, enabling killings of innocent victims and whose very soul is awash in blood.
If I hadn’t heard it myself, I would not believe someone capable of muttering this nonsense on national television in the 21st century.
Robert Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute which is a conservative think tank filled with people who long for the 19th century, appeared Thursday on the PBS NewsHour defending so-called gun rights. In a discussion following a piece on the murder spree loose in the land, Levy told reporter Judy Woodruff that “… conspicuously missing from the reporting is all of the crimes that (are) deterred because the would-be assailants suspected that their would-be victims might be armed. Guns are used for self-defence.”
Being a curious sort, I decided to check Levy’s claim. He won’t like what I found.
According to FBI and Justice Dept. sources, in 2007 “self defense” claims were used by people charged with crimes involving a shooting in more than 5,000 cases nationwide, including murders and felony assault with a deadly weapon. Courts agreed the defendants – are you sitting down –acted in self-defense fewer than 250 times. In other words, of the known 5,000 cases, at least 4,750 shootings had nothing to do with self-defense. Only a terrorist organization would be as sanguine about rampant murder of innocent Americans as Levy and his cronies at the Cato Institute and NRA.
Mr. Levy’s ears are even larger than Barack Obama’s so I hope he doesn’t trip over them as he swings around to face reality – if facing reality is possible for people like Robert Levy.
This Side of the Pecos
Meanwhile, the gun lobby continues terrifying Congress so re-instating the ban on semi-automatic weapons is, excuse me, a dead issue.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a hunter or target shooter. I’ve never done that silly Olympic winter sport where you ski for a while and then shoot a rifle before skiing again. But I can understand why some individuals find target shooting an interesting pastime.
That said, I cannot understand any rationale for keeping a gun in the house. Even police warn that bringing out a gun during a crime is more likely to get the victim killed than the perp. But Clarence Thomas joined with four other extreme conservatives on the Supremes in striking down Washington D.C.’s handgun ban so we’re all free to buy a gun because he and his not-so-learned brethren conveniently ignored the archaic punctuation common in 1789 and based their entire ruling on where comma’s happened to fall. That twisted reasoning – and faulty grammar – is why they concluded the 2nd Amendment gives everyone the right to pack heat.
But there are a couple of options:
- First, ban the sale of ammunition except at gun clubs and licensed hunting facilities.
- Second, require registration for all weapons with a 10 day cooling off period between making application for a gun permit and walking out the door.
- Third, require all guns to be kept locked at licensed gun, target and shooting clubs.
- And fourth, enact laws prohibiting any old goofball from selling any other old goofball a gun from the trunk of his car.