Prospective handgun purchasers Essay

With this column I am giving birth to a new award I have dubbed
TET. It stands for Tasteless Exploitation of Tragedy and this year is
goes–without a doubt–to Handgun Control Inc. for its fundraising and
membership drive begun almost simultaneously with the McDonald’s
San Ysidro mass murder.

Oh, I’ve seen HCI jump on tragedies before. They were quick
to launch a campaign drive in 1980, after John Lennon was murdered in
New York City–which has among the toughest gun control laws in the
nation. They pounced into action when President Reagan was shot in 1981
here in Washington–where handguns have been banned since 1976. And they
even flooded newspapers with letters to the editors after the attack on
the Pope–which took place in a foreign country with stringent gun
control laws. But San Ysidro really takes the cake.

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A police marksman’s bullet had scarcely put an end to the
horrible events at the McDonald’s restaurant when HCI deluged the
media with calls for bans on “machine guns and armor-piercing
ammunition,” and waiting periods on handguns. They also made their
perennial bleat for handgun registration. But it should be obvious to
anyone who didn’t nap through kindergarten that not one of these
restrictions had even the remotest connection to the San Ysidro
incident, and no gun control law yet devised would have stopped the
terrible tragedy.

Item 1: A ban on machine guns. First, the firearm used by James
Oliver Huberty was not a machine gun, as the press initially reported.
It was a semi-automatic, relatively expensive Uzi, a firearm classified
as a rifle under existing federal firearms laws. Machine guns, for the
record, already are strictly regulated as Class III firearms under the
National Firearms Act of 1934, and are legally available only after
paying a $200 federal tax and securing the permission of the chief law
enforcement officer in the purchaser’s locale. The restrictions on
machine guns did not matter one bit in the Huberty slayings and the
press should have been far more adept in its reporting.

Item 2: A ban on “armor-piercing ammunitin.” This,
again, was incorrectly reported in the press. As far as can be
determined, Huberty told his wife he had AP ammo, his wife told the
press, and the press reported it as being fact. In reality, it appears
that Huberty used a common, military surplus 9mm variety of ammunition,
a type used for target shooting and plinking by law-abiding gun owners
for more than 30 years. And even if it had been
“armor-piercing” ammunition, it is hardly reasonable to think
that any of the citizens murdered in the McDonald’s would have been
wearing bullet-resistant body armor which might have spared them from
the tragedy.

Item 3: A national waiting period on handguns. Now I really
don’t see any semblance of logic here, since Huberty used a rifle
and a shotgun, as well as a handgun, in the McDonald’s slayings,
and he owned all his guns for quite some time. Also, California already
has a 15-day waiting period on handguns, the longest statewide waiting
period in the nation.

But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that there were a
national waiting period on handgun purchases, and seven toss in a
background check on prospective handgun purchasers.

First, Huberty was a former security guard and security guards are
generally exempt from the gun control groups’ proposed legislation.

Second, even if Huberty had sought psychiatric counseling,
psychological records are protected under the Privacy Act, except in
cases where the person’s behavior is linked to criminal misconduct.
Huberty had no felony history and authorities could have searched
records from now until doomsday and still would have uncovered nothing
to prevent Huberty from purchasing a gun.

A registered gun in the hands of a lunatic is far more lethal than
an unregistered gun in the hands of a decent citizen; by the time the
San Ysidro SWAT team got to McDonald’s the last thing on their
minds was whether Huberty’s guns were registered or not.

The simple fact of the matter is that no law is going to stop a
madman. Not a law against murder, not a law against rape and certainly
not a gun control law. Even Handgun Control Inc.’s chairman,
Nelson T. Shields, admitted that after the McDonald’s incident.
Yet HCI immediately brought out a promotional advertisment which
proposed: “Could the massacre at McDonald’s have been avoided?
Perhaps not. Will rational laws stop irrational killers? Maybe not.
But we can try . . . . A common sense law to ban Cop-Killer bullets, to
try to keep handguns out of the wrong hands is the least we can do . . .
for (the San Ysidro) victims . . .”

To me, that is tasteless. To me, that is flagrant exploitation of
a tragedy for political and monetary purposes, and I don’t think it
serves the nation, the victims, their families or, for that matter, even
Handgun Control Inc. very well.

Granted, there is nothing illegal about HCI’s solicitation,
nor anything in it that violates any existing postal regulations or
ethics statutes. And frankly, there is nothing that can be done about
except to rely on the good sense and sound judgment of the majority of
American citizens to see through it.

But that doesn’t mean such tactics should be condoned, and it
certainly doesn’t mean they cannot be criticized. So I say,
“Tut, tut, HCI.” You have just won the TET.


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