Prospective handgun purchasers Essay

With this column I am giving birth to a new award I have dubbedTET.

It stands for Tasteless Exploitation of Tragedy and this year isgoes–without a doubt–to Handgun Control Inc. for its fundraising andmembership drive begun almost simultaneously with the McDonald’sSan Ysidro mass murder. Oh, I’ve seen HCI jump on tragedies before. They were quickto launch a campaign drive in 1980, after John Lennon was murdered inNew York City–which has among the toughest gun control laws in thenation. They pounced into action when President Reagan was shot in 1981here in Washington–where handguns have been banned since 1976. And theyeven flooded newspapers with letters to the editors after the attack onthe Pope–which took place in a foreign country with stringent guncontrol laws. But San Ysidro really takes the cake. A police marksman’s bullet had scarcely put an end to thehorrible events at the McDonald’s restaurant when HCI deluged themedia with calls for bans on “machine guns and armor-piercingammunition,” and waiting periods on handguns.

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They also made theirperennial bleat for handgun registration. But it should be obvious toanyone who didn’t nap through kindergarten that not one of theserestrictions had even the remotest connection to the San Ysidroincident, and no gun control law yet devised would have stopped theterrible tragedy. Item 1: A ban on machine guns. First, the firearm used by JamesOliver Huberty was not a machine gun, as the press initially reported.It was a semi-automatic, relatively expensive Uzi, a firearm classifiedas a rifle under existing federal firearms laws.

Machine guns, for therecord, already are strictly regulated as Class III firearms under theNational Firearms Act of 1934, and are legally available only afterpaying a $200 federal tax and securing the permission of the chief lawenforcement officer in the purchaser’s locale. The restrictions onmachine guns did not matter one bit in the Huberty slayings and thepress 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 bedetermined, Huberty told his wife he had AP ammo, his wife told thepress, and the press reported it as being fact. In reality, it appearsthat Huberty used a common, military surplus 9mm variety of ammunition,a type used for target shooting and plinking by law-abiding gun ownersfor more than 30 years.

And even if it had been”armor-piercing” ammunition, it is hardly reasonable to thinkthat any of the citizens murdered in the McDonald’s would have beenwearing bullet-resistant body armor which might have spared them fromthe tragedy. Item 3: A national waiting period on handguns. Now I reallydon’t see any semblance of logic here, since Huberty used a rifleand a shotgun, as well as a handgun, in the McDonald’s slayings,and he owned all his guns for quite some time. Also, California alreadyhas a 15-day waiting period on handguns, the longest statewide waitingperiod in the nation. But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that there were anational waiting period on handgun purchases, and seven toss in abackground check on prospective handgun purchasers. First, Huberty was a former security guard and security guards aregenerally 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 incases where the person’s behavior is linked to criminal misconduct.

Huberty had no felony history and authorities could have searchedrecords from now until doomsday and still would have uncovered nothingto prevent Huberty from purchasing a gun. A registered gun in the hands of a lunatic is far more lethal thanan unregistered gun in the hands of a decent citizen; by the time theSan Ysidro SWAT team got to McDonald’s the last thing on theirminds was whether Huberty’s guns were registered or not. The simple fact of the matter is that no law is going to stop amadman.

Not a law against murder, not a law against rape and certainlynot 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 whichproposed: “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, totry 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 ofa tragedy for political and monetary purposes, and I don’t think itserves the nation, the victims, their families or, for that matter, evenHandgun Control Inc. very well. Granted, there is nothing illegal about HCI’s solicitation,nor anything in it that violates any existing postal regulations orethics statutes. And frankly, there is nothing that can be done aboutexcept to rely on the good sense and sound judgment of the majority ofAmerican citizens to see through it.

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

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