Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Here We Go Again

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, is calling on the United States to move to ban personal firearms in the wake of the attacks at Virginia Tech. Not unexpected, but not particularly realistic, either.

The first problem is that such a ban couldn't be enacted quickly. Even if the whole of Congress were to miraculously pass a gun ban tomorrow, and the President signed it, it would be years, most likely, before it could go into full effect. No matter what you yourself might think about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the simple fact is that there are people who believe that it protects an individual's right to own weapons (not just guns), and there would likely be an immediate injunction while the case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, which would be unlikely to dodge the question this time.

And once it does go into effect, what then? If the debate about illegal immigration and War on Drugs has done nothing to show us that in the face of steady demand, the borders of the United States are pretty much porus - we haven't been paying attention.

The second problem is deeper. The idea that a ban on firearms is going to reduce the level of murder and assault in a society where violence and force are often viewed as legitimate tools of conflict resultion and anger expression seems somewhat wishful. Not to say that it won't happen - but it won't happen quickly, that much is fairly certain. The problem in the United States isn't so much gun violence, as it is just plain violence, and the threat of violence. Some months ago, a high-school student was injured firing a cannon at a school function. Fearful that the cannonade tradition would be abolished, people threatened him with further harm. If such a trivial thing can lead to threats, is the U.S. murder rate a wonder to anyone?

And anyone who's convinced that you couldn't manage to rack up an impressive body count in a short amount of time without access to dedicated weapons is somewhat lacking in imagination. And if you're willing to limit your crimes to one at a time, you can manage a really impressive tally over the course of years, without a single shot being fired.

Not that I think that a ban is completely out of bounds. But when you consider the logistical nightmare that implementing an enforcing it is going to be, something more than the simple presumption it will help ought to be in place.

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