Cho Seung-Hui and gun control laws

While most of our liberal friends have been quiet on the notion that gun control laws would have kept Cho Seung-Hui from obtaining the handguns with which he killed 32 innocent people, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Monica Yant Kinney isn’t one of them:

    N.J. gun laws would have frustrated shooter
    By Monica Yant Kinney, Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist

    There is little about life and death of which I’m certain, but after the rampage at Virginia Tech, it’s safe to say Cho Seung-Hui could not have purchased his weapons of mass destruction legally in New Jersey. There’s just no way a young man as obviously troubled as Cho would have survived one of the nation’s toughest and most thoughtful gun laws. That is, presuming he submitted himself to the close scrutiny.

    I did, when my colleague Tom Ferrick and I set out to arm ourselves on the same day last May for a project comparing gun laws in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

    After popping into Lou’s Pawn Shop in Upper Darby, Tom bought two handguns in 40 minutes.

    After being told all I could do was look at Ed’s Gun Shop in Deptford, I spent $61 and waited eight weeks and six days just to receive my Firearms Purchaser Identification Card and handgun purchase permit.

    Talk about a cooling-off period. It took half the summer for my new pals at the Haddonfield Police Department to do their duty to serve and protect.

At least Mrs Kinney had the good sense to add the qualifier, “presuming he submitted himself to the close scrutiny.”

Mrs Kinney continues, to describe the efforts of the state of New Jersey to put impediments in the way of people seeking to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The notion of a “handgun purchase permit” strikes me as an appalling violation of people’s rights.

Naturally, I can’t simply reproduce Mrs Kinney’s entire article, due to copyright laws; the most that I can do is to summarize the hoops through which a law-abiding citizen had to jump to purchase a handgun, legally, in the Garden State.

  • The local police had to send an officer by her house, to ask her husband if he knew and approved of her request to purchase a handgun. In effect, Mrs Kinney had to get her husband’s permission to exercise her Second Amendment rights.
  • Mrs Kinney had to list “character references,” friends who were questioned about her drinking habits, personal beliefs and even whether she is, “In this state, that meant or ever was, an anarchist.”
  • Mrs Kinney had to submit to an interview with the police, and they had to approve of her reasons for wanting a handgun.

The difference boiled down to this: in New Jersey, the state decides whether you should be allowed to exercise your rights.

It doesn’t appear that Mrs Kinney is terribly interested in the free exercise of her Second Amendment rights. Yes, she obtained the “handgun purchase permit,” but that was for a newspaper assignment; she did not tell us if she actually went back and bought the gun. As nearly as I can tell, her Second Amendment rights are simply not all that important to her, at least, not more than what she considers a good thing, that the police have the authority to scrutinize anyone who wishes to purchase a gun.

Perhaps if I change the scenario just a little bit. Mrs Kinney is a professional journalist, and columnist (which means that she isn’t a rookie by any means) with The Philadelphia Inquirer. What would Mrs Kinney think if she was told that the police (or some other government agency) had to review anything she wrote, to see whether she really needed to publish it, to check to ascertain that she was of good character, to get her husband’s permission to write, and to determine that no harm could come from her writing. Then, after eight weeks and six days, after the payment of a fee to the government, she’d receive a license to publish. I don’t know Mrs Kinney, but I’d bet a whole case of Mountain Dew that she would not be willing to surrender so blithely her First Amendment rights to government approval and licensure as she has been willing to surrender her rights under the Second.

Still, she is hardly alone: there are millions of people, most of whom choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights in the negative, who think it only good, common sense to scrap the Second Amendment, in view of modern life, of problems the Founders failed to foresee. Mrs Kinney’s theme is that Mr Cho would not have been able to purchase a gun legally in New Jersey, and that would have been a good thing, would have saved 32 lives. She described the state as having “one of the nation’s toughest and most thoughtful gun laws.”

Yet, if her theme is accurate, we should expect, then, that the “tough” and “thoughtful” gun control laws would keep New Jersey cities safer than, oh, Philadelphia, with Pennsylvania’s far greater liberty in being able to purchase firearms.

Don’t bet on it.

I’ve written more times than I care to link about the murder rate in Philadelphia — but the murder rate in Newark, New Jersey leaves the City of Brotherly Love in the dust. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, in 2005 Philadelphia had a terrible murder rate of 25.8 homicides per 100,000 population, but Newark hit 34.5, fifth highest in the nation for cities of over 250,000 people.

The downloadable Microsoft Excel file gives us the statistics¹:

Somehow, some way, the Garden State, with it’s “tough” and “thoughtful” gun control laws, has four cities with murder rates a whole lot worse than Philadelphia’s — yet in Pennsylvania, where Mrs Kinney’s Philadelphia Inquirer comrade Tom Ferrick, who was able to buy two handguns in 40 minutes from a pawn shop due to our state’s respect for people’s Second Amendment rights, our next two cities in population (both of which are larger than Jersey’s second and third cities, have lower murder rates than the Garden State’s top three.

(We do have the waste-case city of Chester, which is end-to-end ghetto, with a huge murder rate.)

I’d guess that many of the good people of Newark and Trenton might just have bypassed the legal process through which Mrs Kinney went, when she sought to buy a handgun legally. But, of course, she did realize exactly what would happen.

    There’s just no way a young man as obviously troubled as Cho would have survived one of the nation’s toughest and most thoughtful gun laws. That is, presuming he submitted himself to the close scrutiny.

“(P)resuming he submitted himself to the close scrutiny.” Which, of course, he would not have done. He’d have bought his firearms illegally, as so many people of Trenton and Camden — and Philadelphia — have apparently been able to do, quite easily.

New Jersey’s “tough” and “thoughtful” gun control laws have not made a peaceful paradise out of Camden, have not made the state capital of Trenton a wonderful and safe place to live. The Inquirer for which Mrs Kinney writes has very frequently reported about the shootings in the City of Brotherly Love which even our more-in-tune-with-civil-rights gun laws should have prevented — because in the vast majority of cases, the shooters already had criminal records and were thus legally ineligible to purchase a firearm.

But they had them nevertheless.

The title of Mrs Kinney’s article (which, to be fair, was probably written not by her but by an editor) is “N.J. gun laws would have frustrated shooter.” I don’t know why, given that they don’t seem to frustrate the criminals who want guns in the Garden State; they manage to get them all the time. There is no particular reason to suspect that Mr Cho would have had any more difficult of a time than the drug lords of Newark.

The only people who are frustrated by the gun laws in New Jersey are the law-abiding people who go through the process, the one’s whose constitutional rights have an eight week and six day hold put on them, the ones who have to explain their reasons for wanting to exercise their rights, the ones who have to get their friends to give them references and their spouses to give their permissions.

Let’s face facts: the only people who obey the gun control laws are the people who are already law-abiding — and they aren’t the people about whom we need to worry.
__________________________________
¹ – The downloadable file gives raw numbers; the murder rate shown is a calculation function I added.

13 Comments

  1. The region that encompasses Blacksburg has a very low murder rate. This is typical of rural communities where legal guns are ubiquitous.

    The University was declared ‘gun free’ by legislative fiat. That may have been a bit of a blunder, as it allowed a person with utter disregard for a variety of laws and rules to show how one person with a de facto monopoly on firearms can create a tragedy.

    There is a cultural bias on the part of big-city journalists on this topic. The same arrogance is displayed by a number of big city mayors. Perhaps this is why they are seldom serious candidates for president.

  2. Mr Downs wrote:

    The University was declared ‘gun free’ by legislative fiat. That may have been a bit of a blunder, as it allowed a person with utter disregard for a variety of laws and rules to show how one person with a de facto monopoly on firearms can create a tragedy.

    That’s easy enough to see. How many times have we seen “Drug Free School Zone” signs; is there anyone here naïve enough to believe that an established “Drug Free School Zone” actually means that there are no illegal recreational pharmaceuticals in that zone?

    If no one is naïve enough to believe that, why would anyone be naïve enough to believe that declaring a “zone” to be “gun free” would actually mean that there were no guns therein?

  3. Although I’m no gun control freak (http://iowaliberal.com/?p=261) I do support some basic measures. It always amazes me that those who apparently advocate no control whatsoever think that anybody can go buy a gun illegally if they want one. I’ve certainly purchased illegal goods in my past, but I wouldn’t have the first idea where to find an illegal gun. Cho wasn’t some gangsta with hookups, he had to go buy the guns legally because that was his only avenue, as it is for most people. Those advocating a mental health checkup do have a valid point that it could have possibly stopped him.

  4. Jeromy, Mr Cho was able to purchase his firearms legall, but that does not mean that your statement “he had to go buy the guns legally because that was his only avenue” is valid. Since he was able to purchase them legally, it was the easiest avenue, with no risk of problems.

    You say that you wouldn’t have the first idea where to purchase an illegal gun, but your statement that you’ve “certainly purchased illegal goods in my past” (shall I assume recereational pharmaceuticals here? :) ) indicates that you’ve been savvy enough to find some sources of contraband. Perhaps you have no idea where to pick up an illegal weapon simply because such has never been your interest.

    Me? I could buy a gun (a dozen guns) off of friends if I chose, no problems, but I’d have no idea where to purchase recreational pharmaceuticals; do you think I couldn’t figure it out if I decided I wanted some?

  5. Me? I could buy a gun (a dozen guns) off of friends if I chose, no problems, Dana

    I have been party to such transactions both as the buyer and the seller. However, the only time the person was a stranger involved a friend of a friend who was wearing a badge that indicated he had a certain Federal seal of approval.

    When I bought guns from a ‘trunk of a car dealer’ he followed all of the rules, even thought it meant inconvenience for him.

  6. Dana, there are some conditions to consider. An illegal drug like marijuana and other psychedelics are going to be traded far and wide by lots of people who’d never go near a gun, because there’s simply no other way to get it. Since most people can get guns quite legally, the channels for trade are more likely to be constrained.

    Maybe you know where to get illegal guns. Maybe Cho did. Maybe I could figure it out if I really ventured around in the hood asking questions. But I still think some precaution is worth taking and can prevent some deaths.

    Something else to consider is the ethics behind selling. Shouldn’t a seller be held responsible for selling a mentally ill person or a felon a gun? Such actions verge on culpability in what happens afterwards. Hell, I’d wager a few illegal sellers wouldn’t even sell to a guy who was insane.

    This isn’t to say that some of the other things you point out aren’t valid, I’m making a very specific and limited point here. Needing references to buy a gun or even an explanation is crap, agreed.

  7. Jeromy wrote:

    Shouldn’t a seller be held responsible for selling a mentally ill person or a felon a gun?

    Assuming you are referring to a legal seller, you have to ask: did the gun dealer have a reasonable way to know that the buyer was a convicted felon or was mentally ill? The instant background check can tell the dealer if the buyer has been convicted of a felony, and would let the seller know if there was a legally registered diagnosos of mental illness, but that’s about it. Mr Cho had been referred to mental health services previously, but such was never referenced to his legal records.

  8. Something else to consider is the ethics behind selling. Shouldn’t a seller be held responsible for selling a mentally ill person or a felon a gun? Jeromy

    A dealer who complied with the ‘instant check’ provisions and ignored the negative response would be criminally liable tor the transaction but this is an likely scenario.

    A private seller who had reason to believe that the sale violated Federal law would be criminally liable for the transaction.

    This is in accordance with current law.

    There is quite a bit of misinformation on this topic and some may be intentional.

  9. The instant background check can tell the dealer if the buyer has been convicted of a felony, and would let the seller know if there was a legally registered diagnosos of mental illness, but that’s about it.

    Exactly. And that’s just the point. There was essentially zero “control” of Mr. Cho’s capacity to purchase semi-automatic weaponry because, er, the USA isn’t serious about keeping such killing tools out of the hands of people that ought not to have them. Nearly all of us favor at least some controls on arms. Should passengers be able to carry loaded handguns onto commercial flights? Should a person diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia be allowed to buy a gun? What about someone on parole for aggravated assault? Or someone with a conviction for organized crime activity?

    The debate really isn’t about whether or not America ought to have “gun control.” America already has gun control — just not control that works very well. It ought to be possible to have a system in place that accommodates the legitimate, constitutionally-protected needs of citizens to bear arms, and at the same time make it at least more difficult and expensive (it will never be impossible) to go outside the system to get them.

  10. Passengers get to choose: to carry a weapon, or to take a commercial flight. If they choose to take a flight, then they choose not to carry a weapon.

    Mr Cho was apparently seen by the student counseling services, or something like that. Would you want every reference made to such services to immediately go on your legal record?

    Mr Cho had privacy rights; would you trample upon them for the good of society?

  11. Mr Cho had privacy rights; would you trample upon them for the good of society?

    I wouldn’t “trample upon” them. I would limit them. No rights are unlimited. Your right to keep your mental condition “private” ends when it means keeping the authorities in the dark about purchasing a specialized killing tool the likes of a Glock. Should a person with a significant vision disability be able to keep this information from the RMV because of privacy concerns? Bottom line, if we were a little more concerned with keeping people alive than we were about the privacy rights of a psychopath, it’s entirely possible 32 dead people would now be alive.

  12. Passengers get to choose: to carry a weapon, or to take a commercial flight. If they choose to take a flight, then they choose not to carry a weapon.

    It’s not about “choosing” to eschew carrying a weapon: the United States Government prohibits it in this case. If JetBlue, decided tomorrow morning as a marketing strategy to begin allowing customers to take their firearms in carry-on luggage, they would promptly be visited by agents from the government threatening to shut down their operations. In other words, this is an instance of a limitation on the second amendment, just like the regulations keeping you and me from purchasing F16s or nuclear weapons. Again, we have in place various controls on arms, including guns. The debate isn’t about whether or not to have gun control. The debate is about what kind, and to what extent.

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