Today's topic: Richard Poplawski, the alleged gunman in the April 4 Pittsburgh shootings, reportedly obtained his weapons legally. Jiverly Wong, who killed 13 people in New York state on April 4, also bought his guns legally, having passed background checks. Does this suggest the gun control measures in place across the country are inadequate, or that they aren't being carried out properly?
We haven't even tried real gun controlPoint: Paul Helmke
The most recent epidemic of mass shootings (as well as the roughly 30,000 gun deaths and 70,000 gun injuries we suffer each year) shows quite clearly that we do not have the "laws on the books" needed to prevent this level of violence. In fact, at the national level, we really have only a handful of weak, loophole-ridden laws designed to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns.
There are no U.S. laws against buying the high-powered assault rifle owned by the alleged Pittsburgh gunman, or other military-style assault weapons being used more often against police and others across the country -- or even the .50-caliber sniper rifles able to shoot down a helicopter.
There are no U.S. laws against buying or selling guns online, both of which the alleged Pittsburgh gunman reportedly did. His discharge from the military reportedly for assaulting an officer and the allegations of abuse leveled against him by his girlfriend were apparently not severe enough to get his name added to the federal "prohibited purchaser" list.
The Binghamton, N.Y., killer's former colleagues feared that he might someday show up mad and shoot a number of them, but there is no U.S. law requiring that someone be asked to vouch for a gun purchaser. According to reports, this killer acted strangely during many visits to his local gun store, where he became well known, but this didn't disqualify him from being a gun purchaser.
The suspected Pittsburgh killer expressed his fear of the government and of losing his "rights" to own guns such as his AK-47. The Binghamton killer supposedly said he wanted to kill the president. Neither had any problem complying with our negligible federal laws dealing with access to guns.
There are really only three laws at the national level making it harder for dangerous people to get firearms. There are restrictions on access to machine guns and other fully automatic weapons that date back to the end of the Prohibition era; categories of "prohibited purchasers," such as felons and the dangerously mentally ill, as established in the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated; and the Brady Law -- named after Ronald Reagan's former press secretary, James Brady, who was seriously injured during the 1981 assassination attempt on the president -- which requires federally licensed gun dealers to check the records of "prohibited purchasers" supplied voluntarily by the states.
That's it -- just three federal laws. A few states (among them California) have more laws, but these are often frustrated when people go to another state with fewer restrictions, such as Nevada. In most parts of the country, an individual can avoid a background check by buying from a "private seller" (often at a gun show), can buy an unlimited number of guns and can buy guns without either a license or a permit.
Gun control in American hasn't failed -- we haven't even tried it yet.
Paul Helmke, a former three-term mayor of Fort. Wayne, Ind., and past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
This is a crime problem, not a gun problemCounterpoint: Richard Feldman
Well, Paul, there you go again, confusing "gun control" with "crime control" and "deranged individuals control." Someone forgot to tell these shooters that murder is a crime, so they better pay attention to the rules. We cannot outlaw mental stability collapse, but the bumper sticker sure would be cute.
Every behavioral criminologist I've ever heard from says that people who "go postal" are extremely hard to have their behavior predicted in advance, generally have no criminal history and rarely have any history of mental illness that could have kept them from buying a firearm. It's fairly easy to look back on a tragedy and see what could have or should have been done differently; that must be why we call it 20/20 hindsight.
When we propose legislation, we have only foresight and cannot write perfect laws. One way or another, we'll err. The question we must ask as Americans is if we ought to err on the side of the individual or on the side of the government. I prefer to side with the individual over the groupthink of the government. If there is a will to harm or kill others, violent and crazy people will do so regardless of the law. When the government errs, you can end up with Pol Pots, Stalins and Hitlers. On the whole, I'd prefer our limited massacres to institutionalized mass killings, as despicable as they both are.
Paul, why confuse the facts here with your discussion of "high-powered assault rifles"? Richard Poplawski allegedly shot the Pittsburgh police officers with a shotgun. (By the way, is there such a thing as a "low-powered assault gun"?) As anyone familiar with firearms can tell you, a shotgun is a far more devastating weapon than any handgun that's been produced. Personally, any gun pointed at me is an assault gun, and any gun in my hands is a defensive device I can use to protect my family, my community and myself. It's not the gun, Paul; it's in whose hands the guns are.
Last I checked, it was still illegal to shoot police officers (or any one else) in Pennsylvania or New York. Why do you think Poplawski would somehow not have allegedly violated this particular law with a gallon or two of gasoline or maybe fertilizer and diesel fuel and committed are a far more horrific tragedy? I doubt that you favored banning any of these after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Everyday in this country, millions of your fellow citizens use firearms lawfully and safely, and thousands daily use them for protection. If guns didn't work effectively, the police wouldn't want to carry them around. Naturally, the proper use of a gun is hardly newsworthy, so the understandable impression among non-gun-owners is quite negative when tragedies such as these capture the headlines. The simple fact is, there is a small number of deranged people out there and law enforcement can't protect everyone (even themselves) all of the time. If we spent more time focusing on the problem and less time proclaiming the need to reenact the federal assault weapons bans (see Atty. Gen. Eric Holder's remarks several weeks ago), maybe we can do something to ameliorate the problem. I bet we can; how about you, Paul?
Richard Feldman is the author of "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist." Previously, he was executive director of the firearm industry's trade association and a regional political director for the National Rifle Assn.