Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Courageous journalism

I flipped past a talking heads show on MSNBC in which they were "debating" gun control in the context of the Virginia Tech shooting.

The gun control guy had just finished making an obscure point about magazine capacity in semi-automatic weapons and how Bush & Congress let a law limiting legal magazine capacity expire and how that might have saved lives.

I'm far from a gun expert, but it seems to me that one can't fire 33 shots from any hand gun magazine of any size. The dude had to reload, at least a few times by my math. I doubt outlawing large magazines would have saved anyone that he shot when he'd have otherwise had to have been reloading.

But then some Missouri-based law professor made the (in my mind) even more ridiculous counter argument that the university had rules banning all guns on campus, and those rules failed to prevent the shooting, and therefore the only protection against an armed attacker is to be armed.

Now I know the guy has some fancy law degree that we can assume he didn't mail in cereal box tops to receive. But institutional rules do not create magical fields of enforcement around the institution. (Would you believe that underage college students manage to procure beer on campuses? And that's a State law!) Someone carrying a gun onto campus isn't knocked backwards at the boundary by the enchantment against guns that the Headmaster placed on the gates. "I can't seem to carry my gun onto the school grounds... they must have... some kind of law or rule... which is projecting an energy field. Maybe I can adjust the Heisenberg compensators to emit a phased pulse and knock it out. Or you can use your wand. I really want to shoot my potions professor."

The university exists within a state and country with rather permissive gun rules. The shooting doesn't show that gun laws don't work, it shows that local differences in law mean that the most permissive law in a region becomes the effective law in a region. It's the same with liquor laws: Belmont, MA is a dry town. So I bought beer and wine in Lexington and Cambridge. No liquor sales in MA on Sunday, so we drove to NH for a beer run in the summer, as required. The most permissive law is the effective law for all those with means and inclination to enter the region governed by the permissive law. We all know what you can do if you can get to Amsterdam.

And did the "news" anchor host point out, Jon Stewart-like, the gaping flaw in this argument? Nope. She batted her eyes, and, with well-trained verbal authority tone of voice, handed the conch back to the first dipshit. And so I changed the channel.

But let's extrapolate further from the second guy's argument. Banning a thing isn't enough to protect us from a thing: Good point. Murder happens. Pot happens. Speeding happens. Mattress tags are removed. All are banned, all happen. May as well scrap all our laws and just go back to the wild west! I'm sure our society would be greatly improved. No need for courts, since there are no laws. You'd get the satisfaction of blowing away people who tailgate you, and only have to fear retribution from your victims' friends and family, if they can find you. Feel free to pour Drano in the mountain stream if you like, since you have plenty of water and plenty of ammo, in case those downstream don't like it. It's the vision of a prosperous and efficient social and economic environment. People would be free to spend most of their time being paranoid and suspicious, and less time doing annoying things like economically or socially productive behavior. Sign me up.

For any law there will be those who ignore it or break it. The Gun Nuts argue that, if guns are outlawed, then the "criminal element" (that's the cue to picture a black urban youth, white America) will win the arms race, and we'll be plunged into a nightly ritual of being raped and robbed at gunpoint.

People fall for this. Fear trumps reason, I suppose.

I'd argue that consistent hand gun ban across the nation would make enforcement easier. Hard to concealed-carry a deer rifle or a shotgun. If you have a gun, you need a sportsman's license. Belong to a trap shooting club or have a deer or duck license. Yes, it burdens the most responsible and reasonable owners with more work. But the Virgina Tech shooter was no Ducks Unlimited member. He didn't shoot clay pigeons. He shot his classmates with handguns that he bought in the gun-permissive legal environment of the state of Virginia. They were small enough to keep hidden until it was too late. No one needs a handgun. But "journalists" do need brains.