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Gun control after Virginia Tech massacre?
Not on your life -- the NRA won't allow it

David B. Offer

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

History has shown that no law will stop a madman intent on doing evil."
-- National Rifle Association press release, April 27

The National Rifle Association is wrong.

Gun control laws can stop madmen. They can prevent evil.

History offers proof.

After a string of mass shootings in the 1980s and early 1990s, Australia was horrified by the slaughter of 35 people at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania. Martin Bryant, 28, sprayed death from an AR-15 assault rifle.

Within a few weeks, the government banned semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and launched a gun buyback program that destroyed nearly 700,000 weapons.

There were 13 mass shootings in the 15 years before the horror in Tasmania.

There have been none since.

Gun laws stopped the evil.

Britain banned semiautomatic rifles in 1987 after gun enthusiast Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded 13 others in a rural town. The next year, after Thomas Hamilton used four legally obtained handguns to kill 16 children and a teacher at a kindergarten in Scotland, Britain banned most handguns.

"Today, under laws that make it illegal for private citizens to own anything larger than a .22-caliber gun -- and subject them to thorough background checks -- Hamilton would have had a difficult time obtaining the guns he used ... two .357-caliber Smith & Wesson revolvers and a pair of 9mm Browning pistols," the AP reported.

Britain now has one of the world's lowest gun homicide rates -- 0.04 slayings per 100,000 people. The U.S. rate is roughly 100 times higher.

Disarmament such as that in Britain and restrictions as strong as those in Australia are not likely in this country; gun ownership, gun sports and hunting are deeply inbred in our culture. There are constitutional questions about some gun regulations. Neither culture nor Constitution, however demand that we ignore reality.

The reaction to the slaughter at Virginia Tech last month followed a familiar pattern.

First, the nation reels from shock with the news of another terrible crime.

Next, people ask how it could have happened, what motivated the killers. There are calls for stronger, tougher, better laws to control guns.

Then the gun lobby gets to work. You know: Guns don't kill people, people do. Don't trample our constitutional rights. We already have enough laws, just enforce them. The litany repeats itself.

Then nothing happens -- until the next time someone takes a gun and shocks the nation.

I was in the Army in Germany on Nov. 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the shock -- American and German -- and the politicians who called for tougher gun laws.

In 1968, when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot, I was a reporter in Hartford, Conn. I covered the grief when a second Kennedy brother was killed, then the riots when King was assassinated. I remember the promises that, finally, something would be done.

I remember the failed efforts to gun down Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. And more empty promises.

School shootings have become the norm in America, a tragic routine in our lives, shocking for a moment. Then forgotten.

More than 40 years ago -- Aug. 1, 1966 -- Charles Whitman climbed the tower at the University of Texas to gun down 27 people.

Too young to remember that? Ponder more recent events:

1999: Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, kill 14 and wound 23 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

2005: Jeff Weise, 16, shoots his grandfather and his companion, then goes to school and kills a teacher, a guard, five students and himself in Red Lake, Minn..

2006: Carl Roberts shoots 10 Amish school girls, none older than 13, in Nickel Mine, Pa. Five die.

Now we add Virginia Tech. Seung-Hui Cho, 23, kills 32 people.

Following the Virginia Tech shootings, the National Rifle Association said it has long opposed selling guns to "violent criminals and those who have been adjudicated by a court as mentally incompetent."

That sounds good, but it hides reality.

The NRA has spent millions of dollars to intimidate politicians who support even the most gentle restrictions on firearms.

It has fought efforts to establish waiting periods for those seeking to buy guns to allow law enforcement officials time to conduct reasonable background checks.

It fights proposals for gun registration and opposes limits on gun ownership for military veterans with records of mental instability, including post-traumatic stress.

And, of course, the NRA fights efforts to regulate sales at gun shows.

The slaughter will not end until ordinary people demand action and politicians find the courage to face down the NRA.

Don't expect that to happen soon.

David B. Offer is the retired editor of the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel. E-mail [email protected]

Reader comments

Bee of Norfolk, VA
May 16, 2007 2:03 AM
"There have been none since."

Actually, there was at least one more school shooting in Australia six years after the ban at Monash University in Melbourne. One student with a bag full of handguns walked in, killed two people, and wounded five more. He was only stopped when the teacher and another student risked their lives to tackle him.

"Britain now has one of the world's lowest gun homicide rates"

And it was even lower BEFORE the ban. In 1996, the year before the ban, England and Wales had a total of 47 gun homicides. In 2002, they had 97. That's more than a 100% increase. In 2006, the number dropped back down to 50, which is still three more than in 1996.

They've also seen non-fatal handgun shootings go from 279 in 1996, to 1024 last year. Almost ten years after the things were banned entirely! Not to mention the fact they have an overall violent crime rate seven times higher than the US..

Furthermore, while they may have one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world, both Norway and Switzerland have a lower total homicide rate than the UK. Switzerland has more gun owners per-capita (35.7%) than the US (32%). Norway only trails us by about half a percent in gun ownership (31.5%), yet apparently still has a lower gun homicide rate (0.02) than the UK.

Berserker of Freeport, ME
May 16, 2007 1:12 AM

I'm glad that the author used the word, "disarmament" instead of some other catchphrase. At least he's being honest.

Disarmament may very well work in those nations that do not offer the freedoms we enjoy in America. In Britain, there are as many cameras as citizens. We would never tolerate that.

A disarmed population is one more easily controlled. It is not just another silly amendment, up for interpretation, that allows the right of American citizens to rise up against its government, to eliminate it if neccessary, by the use of armed rebellion.

For every example of disarmament "working" to stem violence (I disagree with that conclusion) there are hundreds of instances where violence was stopped by an armed person. There have been several planned mass murders foiled by the shooter being killed by an armed samaritan. Shall we then, based upon this evidence, pass a law requiring all adult citizens to be armed? No, that would be silly, as silly as passing a law requiring all citizens to be disarmed.

TC of Brunswick, ME
May 15, 2007 9:42 PM

Well, figures don't lie, but liars figure. I made it as far as the mention of the UK before I saw this article for what it was - a deceptive sham. It's too bad that Mr. Offer had to make up and distort his "facts" before presenting them to support his case.

From a recent article in Reason magazine:

"From 1991 to 1995, crimes against the person in England's inner cities increased 91 percent. And in the four years from 1997 to 2001, the rate of violent crime more than doubled. Your chances of being mugged in London are now six times greater than in New York. England's rates of assault, robbery, and burglary are far higher than America's, and 53 percent of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with 13 percent in the U.S., where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police."

Yes, boys and girls, in "gun safe" Britain, crime is rising rapidly, and in many categories surpassing the crime rate in the U.S. I am sure that Mr. Offer will tout the few statistics that show the opposite effect, but to do so out of context is deceptive.

I didn’t get past that point in his little essay, to tell you the truth. Clearly Mr. Offer has no interest in intelligent and informed readers.

The subscription rates for the Morning Sentinel must be rosy indeed if the paper thinks it can dismiss any potential reader who might be able to reason and do their own research.

GunShow of Phoenix, AZ
May 15, 2007 9:37 PM
In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians Died as a result.

In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents were exterminated.

Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, 6 million Jews and countless others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated. (Some estimates bring the total closer to 13 million!).

China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents were rounded up and exterminated.

Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians were rounded up and exterminated.

Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians were rounded up and exterminated.

Pol Pot's Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, over 2,000,000 people, were rounded up and exterminated.

1992-95 Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict; 200,000 dead.

1994 Rwanda, Hutu militia kill 800,000 Tutsis.

Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of 'gun control' or from the lack of being able to defend themselves: about 64,700,000.


Show all 14 comments

3,119 Posts
"You know what really grinds my gears?"

I can't stand how the anti-gun reporters jump on the fact that the UK (or wherever) has less gun crime but ignore the higher overall violent crime rate. Of course fewer guns in circulation would result in less gun use in crimes. But, history has shown us that the overall rate of violent crime (gun related or not) goes UP everywhere guns are banned.

The thug who wants to mug me may be less likely to have a gun, but he KNOWS I won't have one. So he's emboldened to use a knife or a pointy stick with dog poo on the end as his weapon of choice.


2,472 Posts
The responses were great. Much more reasonable & intelligent than the author of the article. Nice that there (at least as far as the copy of the post went) weren't any "silly" pro-gun posts. The kind of responses given to this guy make us look very good.
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