Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guns and Violence: An American Problem

Nine year-old Eddie Smith* walked home from school on a sunny spring afternoon in 1992 and headed in the direction of his grandmother’s apartment in Barry Farms, a housing project in southeast Washington, D.C. Eddie’s grandmother had lived in the Anacostia section of Washington her entire life and was wise to the dangers that confronted the city’s youthful inhabitants. She frequently admonished Eddie to come straight home after school, determined to keep him under her watchful eye. Eddie cut through a grassy field leading to his home on Sumner Road, when he noticed Kenny Copeland, a 29 year-old drug dealer who drove fancy cars, wore lots of gold jewelry, and flashed wads of cash, driving down the street in his gold Pathfinder SUV. Eddie watched from 50 feet away as Copeland came to a screeching halt, jumped out and, in broad daylight, walked briskly to a parked car, where Lamar Jones* was seated listening to rap music. Copeland pulled from his waist a .45 caliber pistol, pointed at the driver’s side window, and pumped six bullets into Jones’ head. Copeland ran back to his SUV and sped off, leaving exhaust fumes and a dead body in his wake. Three days later, the family of Lamar Jones gathered at the local Baptist Church and mourned the death of their beloved family member. The family wept and wailed in agony, not understanding why God had taken their son and brother, nephew and grandson, whose life was cut short at the age of 25.

Two years later, Eddie Smith was the government’s sole eyewitness in the case of United States v. Kenneth Copeland. I was the prosecutor. On the day of jury selection, about two hours before opening statements were set to begin, Eddie’s uncle was in the witness room with the two FBI agents who had painstakingly worked the case for more than a year as part of a Cold Case Squad Task Force. Based on information supplied by confidential sources and old fashioned detective work, the agents had learned the identity of Eddie and his grandmother. After much soul searching, persuasion, and offers to relocate them to a safer neighborhood with better schools, miles away from the drug-infested, crime ridden streets of Barry Farms, Eddie and his grandmother agreed to testify. But on the day of trial, Eddie’s uncle would have none of it. He said there was no way Eddie was getting on the witness stand. My case was about to fall apart.

During the lunch break, while anticipating what I was to tell the judge about the government’s readiness for trial, and before resuming jury selection, we convinced the uncle that allowing Eddie to testify was the right and necessary thing to do, that otherwise Kenny Copeland would kill again and that, without citizens willing to stand up to these thugs, entire neighborhoods like Barry Farms would remain unsafe. In the end, Eddie courageously testified and identified Copeland as the killer. Despite the best efforts of Mark Rochon, a prominent D.C. defense attorney who failed to shake Eddie on cross-examination, the jury found Copeland guilty in less than an hour. Six weeks later, Copeland was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Copeland prosecution was a success, if such a word can be applied to the daily toil of murder and intimidation that occurs in our nation’s cities. In the early 1990’s, murder trials similar to Copeland’s case, in which witnesses were scarce and reluctant, happened every day in D.C. Superior Court; funerals laying to rest sons and daughters before their prime occurred several times a week. The city was in the midst of a crack epidemic accompanied by turf wars and a slew of drug-related shootings that left hundreds of young black men dead and wounded on the streets of the nation’s capital. Lamar Jones was just one of 450 murder victims gunned down each year on the streets of Washington. The Metropolitan Police Department solved less than half of the murders in those years – the District of Columbia was called the murder capital of the United States – as witnesses refused to testify and the anti-snitch culture took root. Most of the murders occurred in the poorest sections of southeast D.C., far from the view of tourists and the plush confines of Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Lawyers, sociologists, journalists, and policy makers debated the root causes of the drug underworld and the cultural influences that contributed to a de-sensitization of violence and dehumanization of its victims. We debated mandatory minimum sentences and demanded that politicians “get tough on crime,” yet the shootings continued.

Sixteen years later, hundreds of young men and women continue to die every year in the District by gunfire and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, over 12,000 Americans die of gunshot wounds annually. Of all industrialized countries, the United States exceeds each in gun-related deaths and violent crime. Despite the number of prescriptions offered to prevent the violence, it is the easy access to guns that make the shootings so prevalent. The strict gun control laws of the District of Columbia had little effect, since anyone could cross the Potomac River and purchase a firearm in Virginia with little effort and no identification. That Kenny Copeland, who already had a murder conviction under his belt – as a juvenile he killed his stepbrother – could so easily obtain a concealable handgun with which to murder Lamar Jones, speaks volumes to this pure insanity.

As a prosecutor in Washington and later Philadelphia, I considered gun violence in America a uniquely urban problem. But a recent article in the journal Pediatrics proves otherwise. A study of gun deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2006 found that children in the most rural areas of the United States die from guns at the same rate as children from the inner city. Although homicides are more prevalent among city youth, gun suicides and accidental gun deaths even the score among rural youth. The study examined data on 15,000 homicides, 7,000 suicides, and 1,400 accidental shootings that occurred over a seven-year period among those aged 19 and younger. The researchers found that children in rural areas die from guns at about the same rate as urban youth – about four deaths per 100,000 children. A previous study showed that adult gun deaths followed similar patterns.

We live in a country that romanticizes gun ownership and glorifies violence. We fought and won a violent revolution, survived a bloody civil war, and forcefully settled the frontier on the backs of native Americans. Today, not a day goes by that we don’t witness gun violence on our television screens and in the movies. The newspapers of all our major cities report tragic gun deaths virtually every day of the year. Yet when someone attempts to question the wisdom of guns and gun ownership, or suggests some modest restrictions on the types of weapons that can be sold or whom can lawfully purchase them, the gun lobby and Second Amendment advocates come out of the woodwork.

Gun proponents contend that gun ownership serves two primary purposes: (1) self-defense from criminals, and (2) protection against political tyranny. Neither contention stands up to scrutiny in today’s world. I understand the desire of some law abiding people to own a gun. If I thought my family was in danger and that a gun could protect them, my first instinct would be to obtain a gun. Emotionally, it is completely understandable. A rational look at the evidence, however, suggests that gun ownership makes one’s family less safe, not more so. Two long-standing, peer-reviewed studies in The New England Journal of Medicine, in 1986 and 1993, found that having a gun in the home makes it 2.7 times more likely that someone will be the victim of a homicide (with the perpetrator most likely related to or intimately acquainted with the victim) and 4.8 times more likely that someone will commit suicide.

To provide maximum protection against an intruder, a gun must remain loaded and within arm’s reach at all times. A gun safely stored in the closet, separated from its ammunition, provides little help in a fast-moving emergency. Not surprisingly, however, research has shown that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a member of the household, or a friend, than an intruder. There can be little dispute that the risk of a loaded weapon in the home greatly exceeds the benefits. (I am not talking about hunting rifles or those in law enforcement who need to have weapons in their possession on most occasions).

The notion that private gun ownership will protect us from political oppression makes even less sense. Private gun ownership was very common under Saddam Hussein’s regime and gun ownership was legalized in Germany five years before Hitler’s rise. In neither case was political tyranny prevented or even diminished. By contrast, although guns are banned in the United Kingdom, the British (call me crazy) enjoy far more freedom than the citizens of Saddam’s Iraq or Hitler’s Germany. And should the U.S. military, with its tanks, fighter jets, and nuclear arsenal, someday declare martial law, that .22 caliber pistol in your closet will do you little good. The best protection against political tyranny is the U.S. Constitution, a strong press, and three branches of government.

Nor does gun control mean that only the criminals will have guns. Today in the United States, the criminals can get a gun anytime they want. States like Pennsylvania and Virginia won’t even consider restricting gun purchases to one gun a month. So a straw purchaser (someone who can legally buy a handgun and will not have any issue with background checks) can go to a gun store, buy multiple handguns, and sell them on the street to convicted felons. It is not legal, but it happens every day, and many of these guns end up being used to commit homicides and other gun-related crimes. The easier it is for everyone to obtain guns, the more prevalent and lethal are the guns in the hands of criminals.

Although the Supreme Court recently instructed that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own firearms and is not restricted to the ability of citizens to form a well-regulated militia (despite 200 years of case precedent to the contrary), it makes no sense that, in many states, it is more difficult to obtain a driver’s license than to buy a gun. In an ideal world, except for police officers and active military personnel, there really is no good reason to permit the civilian population to possess concealable handguns, assault weapons, and cop-killer bullets. Few people dispute the government’s right to ban the private sale of dangerous chemicals, hand grenades and bombs, and all sorts of inherently dangerous items. Why are guns so protected? What does it say about the maturation of American society that gun ownership is considered, in some circles, more sacrosanct than home ownership? If the Second Amendment really does mean that individuals are entitled to own as many handguns as they like, then it is time to amend the Constitution.

Although I would like to see the elimination of many civilian-owned firearms, I understand that this goal is politically unrealistic and, given the historical prevalence of guns in American society, not practical. But there are sensible, reasonable restrictions on gun ownership that everyone should embrace. First, we should have a national system for registering guns and ammunition. Second, instant background checks must be made a priority, and the flaws of existing laws should be corrected. Anyone with a prior criminal record, or mental health issues, should not be allowed to purchase a gun, period. Third, gun purchasers should be required to pass a test on gun safety; obtaining a permit to own or possess a gun should not be easier than obtaining a driver’s license. Just as drivers must prove they know the rules of the road and can handle a car safely before they are entitled to drive, gun owners should be required to prove they can handle a gun safely and lawfully. Fourth, gun owners, like car owners, should be required to purchase insurance, to compensate victims and society from intentional or accidental injury caused by a gun's use. Fifth, there should be stiffer sentences for illegal gun possession and straw purchasing, so that those who are not entitled to possess a gun (e.g., convicted criminals) will be deterred or prevented from doing so, or pay a steep price when they are caught. Sixth, no state should permit anyone to purchase more than one gun a month, in order to prevent straw purchases and the circumvention of other gun laws. And finally, all loopholes that apply to gun shows and private gun dealers must be eliminated. The laws should not vary from state-to-state or allow any exceptions based on the nature of the gun seller.

Kenny Copeland will be eligible for parole before 2020, free to return to Anacostia and walk the streets of D.C. Will the political forces of the gun industry and the NRA continue to promote the myth of a John Wayne America, where people like Copeland and thousands of other drug dealers, thugs, and violent criminals, have easy access to firearms, assault weapons, and the instruments of death? Or will the forces of reason prevail, those who would balance Second Amendment rights with reasonable restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms? Let’s hope, for the sake of victims and their families, it is the latter.

* - Denotes that the name has been changed for purposes of this essay.


  1. Mark,

    It’s late. You’ve just finished Ramsay Clark’s “War Crimes” and are drifting off to dream of a world where Ayn Rand is just the answer to a trivia question and not an author still on the New York Times best-sellers list, when you hear glass break. Or did you? Were you dreaming it? Should you call the police? You wait. You hear something downstairs – a window opening? Maybe you should call the police, but what if it’s nothing? Then the sound of fragile things smashing onto the beautifully tiled kitchen floor. Oh yeah, call the cops now! Wait, could be the daughter. . . Don’t want to call the cops on the daughter stumbling in the kitchen for a late-night snack. You call out. No answer. Yup, 911 it is. While dialing – 9, 9, 1, damn! - you realize that by calling out you just gave your unwanted guest valuable information and then it occurs to you – 9, 2, 2, damn! - that the burglar probably thought the house was empty because your car is in the shop. You’re in the suburbs, so when you finally dial it right, there is no waiting for an answer, and because you’re in the suburbs, you get someone who sounds like they care. “I think someone’s broken into my house,” you explain, leaving out, because it’s not necessary, that you’d like them to send someone to protect you.

    Now you’ve done what you can. Well, you could have gotten that expensive alarm system installed last week like you promised you would, but except for that, you’ve done what you can. Well, you could have bought that puppy last year that now would be your big, loveable, best buddy, intimidating only to strangers, but who needed to deal with the house training and the shedding and the slobbering?

    But other than that, as a good liberal who believes in almost all of the Constitution, you’ve really done all that you can to protect yourself and your family.

    So now the waiting begins. Average response time for the police: four minutes to “how does a week from Tuesday work for you?” You don’t know this, but the maniac that was casually tossing your first floor until you called out, just got out of prison where he’s been for thirty years. Once free, he quickly discovered that he had become institutionalized. You don’t know it, but he wants to go back because the only thing he misses in the real world is the thing that got him sent to jail in the first place: raping and murdering innocent teenage girls.

    So you wait. You look around your bedroom for - dare we say it? - a weapon. Lots of books, this month’s New Yorker magazine, New York Times sports section, hangers! Hey, it worked for Jamie Lee, that is, until Michael sat up like Frankenstein’s monster in one of the scariest scenes in movie history. Funny the things you think about when you’re waiting for fate to decide your, well, fate. Dr. Loomis with a gun would sure come in handy now, you think. Actually, you’d settle for Colonel Mustard with a candlestick right about. . . Oh crap – was that the steps?

    So here is what will happen if the ex- and future con has his way: He will kill you, possibly with a gun, if not, maybe with a knife from the kitchen, and if not, with his bare hands, using combat skills taught to him over the years by professionals in the art of mayhem. You won’t be hard for him to find because you’ll be in front of your daughter, taking a stand against evil, defending the most important thing in your life, with some type of improvised weapon that requires close contact with a man accustomed to controlling the adrenalin surging through his body.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that about this time you can hear the sirens. That would make someone like you run, but then again, someone like you would not be standing in someone else’s house licking your lips over the lovely and terrified young thing cowering in the room beyond.

    So he advances.

    Ever watch those Ultimate Fighting Championship shows on TV? Ever think to yourself, I could take him? Yeah, me neither. Thank God for guns.


  2. You see, crazy man could probably kill you inside of 60 seconds, but in less than two, you could empty your revolver or your semi-auto. Call me Cro-Magnon but I think at this moment, six rounds in center mass would paint a prettier picture than any Jackson Pollock. Even untrained, you would hit him with a few rounds and if it didn’t kill him, it would even the odds just a little more. And yes, he could take your gun and use it against you. So? Does it really make a difference if he kills you with his stolen gun or yours? One way or another, you’re in for the fight of your life.

    With the gun: a fighting chance. Without: well, hope to God he kills you quickly, so you don’t have to lie there broken and impotent, listening to your daughter’s cries for help.

    Now Mark, I could counter every one of your assertions regarding guns, and if you want me to, just ask (I’ll start with John Lott’s comprehensive study of every county in the U.S. and his conclusion: “More Guns, Less Crime”). I could also counter your slam of the Supreme Court’s decision, but that would entail a few more words than “…despite 200 years of case precedent to the contrary,” and I know how you hate when I go on and on. I could also talk about England and Australia and the rising crime rates since they’ve disarmed their law-abiding citizens. I could do 5,000 words on the simplest way to save the Lamar Jones’ of the world, who are, by and large, killed by a group of people who share one common label: recidivist (like Kenny Copeland). This would provide me the opportunity to make fun of the New York Times for their ridiculous but revealing 1998 headline: “Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops” (and that was just one of many!). I would also love to dissect “...forcefully settled the frontier on the backs of native Americans,” cutting beneath the crying Indian from the 1970’s pollution commercial that may have started this whole romanticizing of a brutal, savage existence that was American Indian life. And of course there is the “…myth of a John Wayne America,” that would need addressing, since the John Wayne archetype, the rugged individualist, is a quite accurate depiction of Americans before the narcotic of “entitlement” became a raging addiction. But this is a battle that could continue without end, so I’ll keep it primitive.

    There are bad guys out there, Mark. They are evil, with or without guns. They are murderous, with or without guns. Soulless monsters walk among us and they will not be stopped by new laws, by reason, or by pleas of mercy. If nuclear weapons suddenly disappeared, millions would still die from war, and likewise, if all guns suddenly disappeared, the advantage would simply fall to the criminals. Even your utopia, a world without guns, is a nightmare. A gunless world means easy pickings for the sociopaths, who could act on every impulse, knowing their targets are unarmed. And soon thereafter, because little Johnnie cut himself with his father’s pocket knife, there would be calls to ban bows and arrows, knives and scissors and eventually there would be a czar of pointy things.

    Truth is, the villains already have the advantage. A lack of conscience is a mighty weapon as it allows for action without hesitation. You and I don’t have that, and worse, we have guilt. A false guilt, mind you, but still, it makes us deaf to that little voice that says, “Cross the street.”

    To counter the natural disadvantage that decent people have when faced with evil-doers, a tool is made to aide them, and it is used millions of times a year to save lives. And yes, Marian, a gun is a tool, “no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.” And shame on you if you had to Google that.


  3. And since you picked on the Duke, one more movie reference (movies get most things wrong, by the way, but the one thing they nail is man’s capacity for evil) that illustrates the point. J.B Books had a code for living: “I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them.” It was a good rule and enforceable through much of his life by the shear authority of his presence, but age and disease made him vulnerable and only one tool prevented him from ending life as a victim.

    So let’s return to our life and death drama; a reality that replays thousands of times a day in this world. There you are, the only barrier between good and evil, holding whatever you could find in your formally safe bedroom. Please tell me what would be a better choice than a gun; what would give you and your daughter a better chance for survival than a tool designed to stop a threat before it gets too close to cause harm?

    Liken it to anything you want, to NASA’s love of redundancy, to an escalation of force, to an embarrassment of choices. Why would you deny you and yours that one last opportunity, that Plan B, that nuclear option when all else fails? Why do you consciously choose to be less prepared to protect your family than you need to be?


  4. Rich,

    You make a compelling, emotionally-charged case for why and when all of us, on a gut level, want a gun in our house. Well written as always. I have always been somewhat risk averse, so I have been willing to take my chances that the scenario you describe will not occur in my lifetime, balanced by the much better odds that, God forbid, one of my kids finds the gun in the closet one day when I am out back cutting the grass and, while playing cops and robbers (or whatever), not realize the gun is loaded. Or that the gun will discharge by accident, or I will have it in reach when I experience one of my occasional road rages during a rush-hour traffic jam.

    It is a personal choice, whether or not to have a gun, and I respect you for exercising the choice one way -- you understand and are comfortable with guns, and the risks of misuse are therefore greatly lessened. I choose to eliminate any risk of accident or misuse, though I understand there could someday be an incident in which I regret that choice. But given the risks and benefits, my choice remains to not own a gun.

    I only contend that, should you or anyone else choose to own a gun, there be certain requirements fulfilled to ensure its safe use. I would be interested in your view of the recommended regulations on firearm ownership that I list in the second-to-last paragraph. This is where most of the disagreement is with gun proponents and gun control advocates -- what regulations and restrictions should be implemented, not to prevent law abiding citizens from owning a gun, but to ensure that only law abiding citizens educated in a gun's safe use and storage, be permitted to own a gun. Accept as true my statement that I am not advocating the confiscation of your guns (except for certain types of assault weapons, which I do not believe civilians should be permitted to own privately). Can you live with the proposed recommendations?

  5. Mark,

    Supporters of the Second Amendment are often tarred by a biased media as “gun nuts” or “right-wing extremists” because they fight tooth and nail to preserve what they believe, and our founders believed, to be an innate right. Second Amendment advocates worry about the slippery slope and what they know to be the ultimate agenda of the gun control lobby, and for that they are demonized as anti-government militia types who want to stockpile bazookas and landmines. The media faithfully report the fatally flawed studies of the anti-gun crowd and report every loss of innocent life involving a gun, while ignoring the studies that discredit liberals’ most sacred beliefs and the countless times that guns are used in self-defense.

    Our exchange here is a perfect example. Taken in reverse, your two posts illustrate why Second Amendment proponents have a reason to be wary of the slippery slope. Imagine for a moment that the gun issue is to be decided by you and me.

    You lure me in by your admission that you try to avoid risk in your life and that you perceive the greater danger to be an accident with the gun and not from an external threat. I take the opportunity to try to convince you that what you’ve been told is not true and that if you’ve managed to cut your lawn without cutting off your toes or the toes of your children, that you could likely survive owning a gun. I tell you that guns don’t go off by accident and that if you were the road-rage type, you would have already used your car, a much more dangerous tool, to wreak bloody havoc. I observe that you’ve been swinging a bat for at least 45 years and have never used it as a club against the head of an incompetent umpire.

    About this time, the gun nuts behind me whisper that you can’t be trusted. They sing like a choir of parrots, “Slippery slope!-rark!-slippery slope!” and I turn to hush them saying, “You just heard the man say that it is a ‘personal choice, whether or not to have a gun’ and that he respects whatever choice a person makes.”

    Having softened me up, you glide gently into talk of “regulations and restrictions” for those who have made the choice to have a gun, which, you remind me, in no way implies that any laws should “prevent law abiding citizens from owning a gun…”

    One of the extremists shouts out that Americans don’t have to pass a test to practice their religion or speak their mind or even vote (and that’s one right that should be dependent upon passing a test demonstrating a rudimentary knowledge of American history), but I wave him off; after all, while I might believe that every good guy who wants to carry a concealed gun should be allowed to do so, I would certainly feel better if he knew basic gun safety.

    While you might not have had me at hello, by the time we get to, “Accept as true my statement that I am not advocating the confiscation of your guns…” I am convinced, despite the misinformation you likely have as to what constitutes an “assault weapon” (and isn’t that redundant anyway?), that you are a man with whom reasonable negotiation is possible.

    I leave the negotiating table for a bathroom break and am immediately knocked on my ass by Wayne LaPierre, who throws his Mark Ehlers file in my face and says read it!

    Imagine my embarrassment when I read that just last week you were proclaiming that gun ownership was unwise; that a gun is ineffective when it comes to self-defense and that even if our government became tyrannical there would be no point in even trying to defend yourself – better to just memorize your new citizen serial number and become a well behaved apparatchik.


  6. Can I even look Wayne in the face, with my one open eye, after I learn that you’re on record regurgitating Arthur Kellermann’s junk studies? How do I reconcile the reasonable Mark with the Mark who has stated that there “can be little dispute that the risk of a loaded weapon in the home greatly exceeds the benefits,” which if true would mean millions of Americans are clinically retarded, and just as likely to run a hose from their car’s exhaust pipe into their home to keep warm on a cold winter night?

    “Charlton would be ashamed,” Wayne says, as I contemplate the logic of justifying Britain’s ban of guns by observing that her citizens still have more freedom than in Saddam’s Iraq!

    As I fight back the tears from the low blow of evoking Heston’s name, I am desperately grasping for anything: “Mark says the best protection from tyranny is the U.S. Constitution! See, he believes in it, we’re on the same page!” Wayne practically spits when he tells me to read on.

    The Supreme Court was wrong in its decision! The Bill of Rights, meant to codify, recognize and preserve the rights of the people, no sooner gets started with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, than it suddenly switches to recognize a government power – putting together an army – and then switches back to protecting the individual for the remaining eight amendments.

    “Obviously those robed morons are as stupid as the millions who purposely bring a tool into the house that will eventually kill them,” Wayne says, but I think he’s being sarcastic.

    I read on and find a sentence that offers a glimmer of hope, but the light dims each time I read it: “In an ideal world, except for police officers and active military personnel, there really is no good reason to permit the civilian population to possess concealable handguns, assault weapons, and cop-killer bullets.”

    “I think Mark recognizes that we don’t live in an ideal world and therefore we need handguns, assault weapons and cop-killer bullets,” I surmise. “Or he’s saying that if Liberals ruled, which would be ideal, handguns and the rest would be illegal,” Wayne counters.

    He has a point, I realize, when I read that you compare the non-right of home ownership with the Constitutional right of gun ownership, inferring that appreciation for a life-saving tool over a type of shelter makes one immature.

    “I’m sure he didn’t mean that, Wayne.”

    “He did too.”

    “No, he didn’t.”

    “Did too!”

    “Did not!”

    Wayne balls up a fist and threatens more non-gun violence and then, in a warm-up to letting me have it with both barrels, says, “This is the guy you just entered into negotiations with to give away our rights! And yes, Chuck is cursing your name, you damn dirty sellout!”


    I am beaten. But Wayne, the gun nut, cannot resist the coup de grâce:


    Wayne is a good man and he begins the process of building me back up again, reminding me that gun violence is drastically reduced when those who break any of the already countless gun laws go to jail for decades not years; that additional rules and regulations simply deny rights and options to those people who obey the law. He reminds me that a villain will not register his guns; will not admit to being mentally unstable (unlike the law-abiding citizen, for example, who will admit to seeing a psychologist for a short time after the death of a loved one); will not enroll in the premiere gun safety course taught by the NRA; will not apply for a permit; will not secure insurance so when he walks up on a guy sitting in a car and blows his brains out, the family can afford to have the car detailed. Wayne reminds me that everywhere right-to-carry laws have been adopted, violent crime has gone down.


  7. Wayne then throws me a bone, telling me that you’re at least right about the stiffer sentences for those who commit crimes with guns. “It works every time it’s tried,” Wayne says as he picks me up off the floor. “There are people in this world that must be written off,” he continues. “If we give them a second chance, we are denying others a first chance. And we must respect the rights of those who obey the law and give them all the tools they need to protect themselves from the predators.”

    As I walk back to the negotiating table, I think of all those who did not have to die, but did because good people did not have the same right as the bad guys to arm themselves. I think of Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, leaving her gun in her car, as the law required, while dining out with her parents, and the maniac who drove his car and his gun into the restaurant and ordered a killing spree for lunch. Even with the gun in her purse, people would have been killed, but maybe one or two, or even three or four, but certainly not 22, and possibly not her parents (if you want to witness this conflict in stark black and white terms, search for her testimony in front of the pompous Chuck Schumer. watch Schumer’s face as Suzanna describes the brutal murder of her parents and ask yourself if he is really the caliber of man you want to stand shoulder to shoulder with in this fight?).

    I’d love to meet you halfway, Mark, but reducing gun violence has nothing to do with preventing law-abiding Americans from arming themselves. If you want to talk about stiffer penalties for those who use guns during crimes or for those who are caught with a gun despite forfeiting, through their conduct, their right to be armed, then I’m with you. Let’s agree that the Kenny Copelands of the world don’t deserve a second, third and fourth chance. Let’s agree that thirty years for an execution murder is a slap on the wrist and that the problem is not the access to weapons but the freedom to secure them in the first place. Ask yourself which new law that you have advocated would have saved Lamar Jones? Copeland had killed before, but was free to roam the streets and, although you didn’t elaborate, I’d bet that his rap sheet prior to the execution was impressive.

    It is not the addition of new laws and regulations that will save lives (or tinkering with the Constitution), but the restoration of all the rights for which our founders fought for and established. The key to less violence is more responsibility by the citizens for their own safety. One of the best essays I have ever read is called “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman ( and I urge you to read it, especially the paragraph that begins, “Some people may be destined to be sheep…” One of his points is that we make a choice in the role we play and it matters not what we do for a living, but how we view the world. There are those who rely on the hope that the wolf will not come and those who prepare for when he eventually does.

    As Lt. Col. Grossman wrote, “If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you.”

    You say Copeland will get out of jail soon and worry that he will kill again and your solution is more gun laws and rules. Lamar Jones died for two reasons: Copeland was free when he should not have been and Lamar Jones was chillin’ in his car listening to loud rap music and being completely oblivious to the wolves around him.

    Be a sheepdog, Mark. Eligible for parole does not mean deserving of parole. Circle your calendar and appear at Copeland’s parole hearing and make sure a wolf is not let loose until the exact day that the law says he shall be freed.

    Rich R.

  8. Rich,

    After reading your comments, at least I better understand the NRA's incapacity for negotiation and compromise. However, I am still not sure why (other than "slippery slope") the restrictions I proposed would not make us all more safe, while also permitting you and Wayne, and anyone without a rap sheet or history of mental illness, to own one (or several) guns. It is true that lawn mowers and cars are potentially dangerous objects (which is why there exist many regulations governing their manufacture, sale, and use), but they are generally not dangerous if used as intended. Not so with guns, which are dangerous ONLY if used as intended. But I quibble.

    There is a website from (I believe) the University of Utah that cites facts, studies, and statistics on firearms in the United States ( and which offers some interesting facts:

    "In the U.S. for 2006, there were 30,896 deaths from firearms, distributed as follows by mode of death: Suicide 16,883; Homicide 12,791; Accident 642; Legal Intervention 360; Undetermined 220. This makes firearms injuries one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. The number of firearms-related injuries in the U.S., both fatal and non-fatal, increased through 1993, declined to 1999, and has remained relatively constant since. However, firearms injuries remain a leading cause of death in the U.S., particularly among youth (CDC, 2001) (CDC, 2006).

    "The number of non-fatal injuries is considerable--over 200,000 per year in the U.S. Many of these injuries require hospitalization and trauma care. A 1994 study revealed the cost per injury requiring admission to a trauma center was over $14,000. The cumulative lifetime cost in 1985 for gunshot wounds was estimated to be $911 million, with $13.4 billion in lost productivity. (Mock et al, 1994) The cost of the improper use of firearms in Canada was estimated at $6.6 billion per year. (Chapdelaine and Maurice, 1996)

    "The rates of firearms deaths in the U.S. vary significantly by race and sex. The U.S. national average was 10.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001. The highest rate was 34.5/100,000 for African-American males, more than double the rate of 16.3/100,000 for white males and well above the rate of 2.7/100,000 for white females. CDC, 2004).

    "Firearms injuries are the second leading cause of non-natural death in childhood and adolescence. (CDC, 2004) Accidental shooting deaths are most commonly associated with one or more children playing with a gun they found in the home. (Choi, et al, 1994) The person pulling the trigger is a friend, family member, or the victim. (Harruff, 1992) In the period from 1979 to 2000, accidental firearms deaths involving children declined in the U.S., aided by child access prevention laws and felony prosecution of offenders. (Hepburn et al, 2006) A study of nonnatural deaths in a large American city revealed that half of such deaths in persons from 10 to 19 years of age were due to homicide, and firearms were involved in 88% of them. (Heninger and Hanzlick, 2008)."

    I beleive these statistics provide compelling support for subjecting firearms to regulation and reasonable restrictions, irrespective of how expansive may be one's view of the Second Amendment. To side with the NRA's uncompromising position in opposition to virtually all regulation of the gun industry -- particularly in light of these facts -- is truly extreme and unreasonable.

  9. Mark,

    So it’s come to this. OK, my turn:

    “Since 1991, the nation’s violent crime rate has decreased 40 percent… States with Right-to-Carry laws have lower violent crime rates, on average, compared to the rest of the country: total violent crime by 31 percent, murder, 39 percent; robbery, 55 percent; and aggravated assault, 19 percent. States that have the most restrictive gun control laws tend to have the highest ratios of robberies (confrontational violent crimes) to non-confrontational property crimes.”

    In other words, “More Guns, Less Crime,” which brings us to John R. Lott, Jr.:

    “States with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes. Thirty-one states now have such laws—called "shall-issue" laws. These laws allow adults the right to carry concealed handguns if they do not have a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness.”

    “Criminals are deterred by higher penalties. Just as higher arrest and conviction rates deter crime, so does the risk that someone committing a crime will confront someone able to defend him or herself. There is a strong negative relationship between the number of law-abiding citizens with permits and the crime rate—as more people obtain permits there is a greater decline in violent crime rates.”

    “Concealed handgun laws reduce violent crime for two reasons. First, they reduce the number of attempted crimes because criminals are uncertain which potential victims can defend themselves. Second, victims who have guns are in a much better position to defend themselves.”

    “You are referring to the often-cited statistic that 58 percent of murder victims are killed by either relatives or acquaintances. However, what most people don't understand is that this "acquaintance murder" number also includes gang members killing other gang members, drug buyers killing drug pushers, cabdrivers killed by customers they picked up for the first time, prostitutes and their clients, and so on. "Acquaintance" covers a wide range of relationships. The vast majority of murders are not committed by previously law-abiding citizens. Ninety percent of adult murderers have had criminal records as adults.”

    “When states passed these laws (Right-to-Carry or Shall Issue), the number of multiple-victim shootings declined by 84 percent. Deaths from these shootings plummeted on average by 90 percent, and injuries by 82 percent.”

    “Finally, after extensively studying the number of accidental shootings, there is no evidence that increasing the number of concealed handguns increases accidental shootings.”

    “. . .possibly the most commonly raised concern involved fears that armed citizens would attack each other in the heat of the moment following car accidents. The evidence shows that such fears are unfounded. Despite millions of people licensed to carry concealed handguns and many states having these laws for decades, there has only been one case where a person with a permit used a gun after a traffic accident and even in that one case it was in self-defense.”

    “Murder rates decline when either more women or more men carry concealed handguns, but a gun represents a much larger change in a woman's ability to defend herself than it does for a man. An additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about 3 to 4 times more than an additional man carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for men.”

    “High crime urban areas and neighborhoods with large minority populations have the greatest reductions in violent crime when citizens are legally allowed to carry concealed handguns.”

    “Many countries, such as Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland, and Israel have high gun-ownership rates and low crime rates, while other countries have low gun ownership rates and either low or high crime rates.”

    Rich R.

  10. Mark,

    New York just paroled Shu’aib Raheem for the 1973 murder of police officer Stephen Gilroy. As was stated at a previous parole hearing, “Shu'aib Raheem decided to take the life of one brave cop, who in Raheem's own words, he saw bobbing his head from time to time around the corner of an El pillar. In his testimony, he coldly stated that he sat and simply waited for the cop to stick his head out. After carefully sighting in his target, Raheem simply pulled the trigger, instantly killing my cousin with one perfectly aimed, premeditated shot to the head."

    So a question: If Raheem decides to break into a house instead of a garage and steal a gun instead of a car and stroll into a mall instead of cruise a parking lot and shoot shoppers instead of run over pedestrians because prison is the only thing he knows, will you focus your frustration on the mechanical device he chose to achieve his goals or will you, instead, denounce a system that would give a cold-blooded murderer a second chance?

    Rich R.

  11. Rich,

    Fair question. The answer is both. I would question how he received a second chance from a crime that clearly deserved life without parole (at minimum). I would also question why it was so easy for him to obtain a gun (which is intended and designed to kill people, unlike a car). Now, if he broke into a house and stole a gun that was lawfully owned, registered and licensed by its rightful owner, then in Raheem's case my focus would be solely on the system that allowed him a second chance. But if, as is more likely, he obtained the gun on the street from illegal gun dealers or straw purchasers, who are facilitated in their actions by states that, because of pressure from the NRA, refuse to pass laws prohibiting the purchase of more than one gun in a month, then I will also focus on a society that is so screwed up in its protection of gun rights that it aids and abets the illegal gun trade.