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Curbs On Guns Work Better Than Old Slogans

The rhetorical failure of the week belonged to state Rep. Craig Miner who, in handing down the lame list of Republican proposals from a working group on gun violence, said, "We believe it's not the gun that kills the person. It's the person that actually kills the person. That sounds kind of cold, but that's the way it is."

Dude, it doesn't sound cold. It sounds old. All you did was reword a 30-year-old NRA bumper sticker. You might as well have said: "We believe that, having said 'Budweiser,' one can be averred to have made an all-encompassing statement."

"People kill people" doesn't really cut it. Take a group of 100,000 people in Ireland or Germany or Spain. In a year, using guns, people will kill one of those people. In the U.K. or Japan, people will kill, on average, close to zero of those people that way. Take 100,000 people in the U.S. In a year, people will kill 10 of those people using guns. Are Japanese and German and Spanish and British people 10 times saner and nicer than we are, or do we just have a lot more guns?

Take 100,000 people in Connecticut and the same number in Louisiana, where there are loosey-goosey gun laws. In an average year, people using firearms will kill five people here and 18 there. People kill people but not at the same rate. Take care of business, and the rate goes down.

Let's talk about cars. Forty years ago, people killed 54,000 people every year that way. In 2011, with way more cars on the road, people killed about 32,000 people. It's still bad, but it's awesome progress. With guns, we have made no progress. The gun death rate stays flat at 10 per 100,000. The body count just keeps pace with population growth. The car and gun death totals are nearly identical, but one number is falling and the other creeping up.

We did a lot of things to make that car number go down. Using Miner's logic, we should have done nothing to mandate safer cars, because cars don't kill people. But we made cars safer, made seat belts a given, cracked down on drunks and speeders, added graduated licensing.

Some of the bipartisan proposals from last week's working committee report essentially treat guns more like cars — at least in the sense that the state would try a lot harder to know who owns any given gun at any given time and would punish more harshly people who sell or transfer guns off the books. Good.

But the real doozy was buried near the bottom of the Democratic report: a law that would determine when "personalized" handguns are truly available on the market and then limit all handgun purchases henceforth to the personalized variety. Personalized handguns are designed to be operated only by somebody who, say, punches a five-digit code into a wristwatch or who has been biometrically matched — hand-to-grip — with the gun.

Those guns already exist. The law would be tough to pass, but it would save thousands of lives every year.

You see, when people kill people with guns, two-thirds of the time, they kill themselves. Thirty-two thousand gun deaths mean almost 20,000 suicides. Gun suicide attempts are far more successful than any other type. Often the suicide is a young person using an adult's gun. You really want guns to be hard to use by somebody who's not supposed to be using them.

When I was 14, my dad was found in a coma. It seemed like a suicide attempt, but we didn't know for sure. My mom sent me out to his car to check for clues. I reached under the seat and my hand closed around a gun. I walked back in the house numbly holding a .38 and freaking out my already freaked-out family.

When he woke up in the hospital, he told me he brought the gun to finish himself off in case he hated the way the pills felt. I enjoyed his company for another 30 years. I was glad he passed out before getting the gun. Making him punch in a five-digit code sounds like one hell of an idea.

Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.

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