Saturday, November 8, 2008

What the SC Halloween Shooting Suggests About our Gun Laws

Some say Quentin Patrick is a poster boy for gun control. Patrick shot 29 times through his door at some trick-or-treaters and their father, killing one of the kids. He sounds like the poster boy for better drug and mental health laws to me. If this event says anything about gun laws, its that they need to be aimed specifically at the problem, not be some blunt instrument which effects millions of people who are irrelevant to the problem.

What sane, sober person responds to a knock at the door by launching an attack? Put another way, which rerun of that scenario would result in more deaths: Patrick armed only with a large steak knife, or a healthy person as the owner armed with the AK-47? Gun deaths are not random events like diseases that hit the population uniformly. They are very concentrated among young males, the suicidal-mentally ill, and of course criminals. Let's see how Mr. Patrick scores:

"An ex-convict who thought he was being robbed gunned down a 12-year-old trick-or-treater, spraying nearly 30 rounds with an assault rifle from inside his home after hearing a knock on the door, police said Saturday. Quentin Patrick, 22, is accused of killing 12-year-old T.J. Darrisaw on Friday night."

Wow, a young male ex-convict. Color me shocked. There is also this:

"Police said they also charged a 19-year-old in his home, Ericka Patrice Pee, with obstruction of justice when she was caught trying to run away after the shooting with $7,500 in cash. Patterson did not give an explanation for the money."

I'll give you one: he's got some sort of criminal enterprise going there, probably drug dealing. Patrick has prior drug convictions.
So the lesson here is not to ban guns. The lesson here is get the damned guns out of the hands of criminals and people not sufficiently psychologically stable to handle them.

Let's have stiffer penalties for crimes committed with guns, or for possessing a gun where it is illegal. How about a higher minimum age for purchasing certain weapons? Might not pass constitutional muster, but it's worth a shot. More sensible drug laws would surely make a big difference, as would better mental health care. Stop filling prisons with people convicted of nothing more serious than drug possession, and start filling them with people who use guns to commit crimes, and let's see how the data changes.

Accidental gun deaths are tragic of course, but all death is tragic. That's not what is relevant when setting public policy. We simply do not outlaw causes of death that cause as few accidental deaths as guns do. We'd be outlawing swimming pools, mop buckets, and various models of transportation, were we to take that attitude. Freedom carries risk, we knew that going in.

For what its worth, I don't have a big problem with banning assault weapons, but my reasons have to do with my reading of the constitution*. I just don't think its where we should focus our energies, because I don't think there is much societal gain to be had there. We know who is abusing their gun rights. Curtailing their freedoms is the way to handle the problem in a supposedly free society, not infringing on everyone else's.


* I do not think the founding fathers could have possibly understood the concept of weapons which could not be controlled sufficiently by the average person to effectively attack a single, deserving target, and consequently I do not think the term "arms" in the second amendment applies to such weapons. Thus, nuclear weapons can be banned, but 22's cannot. In between there is room for disagreement, and automatic weapons tread on the line.

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