Gun-control shootout

(Charleston Gazette, May 13, 1994)

By James A. Haught

What would you do if one of your neighbors bought an Uzi?

Would you tell your children never to throw a ball near his house, or quarrel with his children? Would you pray that he never gets drunk or turns nutty? Would you be exceedingly polite to him, out of fear that he might take offense at some remark? Or would you buy an Uzi yourself, to equalize the menace?

America's gun madness is turning us into a frightened society. People buy pistols because they're afraid of all the psychos and criminals with guns.

Pistols bought for defense almost never are used to shoot an attacker. More often, they're used in family quarrels or drunken suicides or tragedies involving children. Sometimes they're stolen by burglars -- which raises the gun peril on the streets, making nervous people buy pistols for protection.

When the House of Representatives narrowly passed a ban on military-type assault weapons, most of the Gazette staff cheered. We all pounced on Andy Hansroth, our hunting-fishing writer, who shares the gun-totin' views of the vast majority of West Virginians.

After the staff berated poor Hansroth mercilessly, he said he'd write a commentary explaining the feelings of gun-lovers. I said I'd write one in behalf of gun-fearers, and we'd print them together. This is my half of the debate.

Compared to other democracies, America is a brutal, dangerous place. The U.S. murder rate is 70 times higher than in some orderly nations. Most of the killings involve guns. Pistols add finality to arguments. If two drunks quarrel in a tavern and one pulls a knife, the other may be able to run away. But it's hard to outrun a bullet.

These statistics are quoted often: In 1990, Britain had 22 pistol murders, Sweden 13, Australia 10 -- and America 10,576.

The pattern doesn't change from decade to decade. In 1980, Britain had eight pistol murders, Sweden 18, Australia four, Canada eight, Israel 23, Swizerland 24 -- and America 11,522.

Deep cultural differences cause part of this violence gap, but part results from the fact that the low-murder nations don't allow pistol pollution.

Soaring popularity of Uzi-size machine guns among drug dealers worsened the U.S. carnage, adding greater risk that bystanders would be hit during shootouts. Mac-10s, AK-47s and the like now are featured in American massacres.

"American massacres'' is a distinctive phrase. There are no British massacres, French massacres, or Japanese massacres.

As horror grows in America, we can have two responses: We can buy guns in a vain hope that they'll protect us from guns -- or we can try to cleanse our country.

I vote for the latter. Let hunters keep their rifles and shotguns -- especially the latter, which provide home protection. But, personally, I'd confiscate every snub-nosed stickup pistol and mow-'em-down submachine gun in the civilian population.

Gun fans say the Second Amendment gives everyone a right to carry a concealed weapon. I don't believe this -- and neither do most Americans. I don't want an armed person coming into my home or office. If I knew that someone was carrying a pistol on a Charleston street, or in a courtroom, or at a Laidley Field football game, or at a Civic Center rock concert, I'd call police immediately.

The West Virginia Supreme Court once declared that "every man who goes armed in the midst of a peaceable community is of vile character, and a criminal.'' The ruling said this premise "ought to prevail in every community which aspires to civilization.''

Amen.