John Harrigan: Once more, weighing in on never-ending gun issue

JOHN HARRIGAN March 30. 2013 8:00PM

Gun control has been driving the news this week, or at least the mail. In recent weeks readers have been encouraging me to dive into the morass. There is so much noise on this issue that I don't know where to begin. But I'll begin with this:

It is ludicrous, to me, to think that ever more gun laws will make a difference. There are abundant gun laws on the books. If they were enforced and followed up we might be able to make a dent in gun violence. But laws don't curb the lawless.

"Might be able to make a dent" is the operative phrase here. With an estimated 200 million handguns and who knows how many long guns out there in circulation, or stashed, or being bought and sold, it's pretty much an axiom that people who are bent on mayhem or are just plain bad guys will be able to get guns. Nobody has ever really addressed this fact. No matter what laws we pass, criminals will still be able to get guns. Linking arms and swaying and singing Kumbaya over the latest gun-control package will not change this situation.

I'm all for background checks before someone can, in a commercial situation, buy a gun. But background checks do not necessarily address mental illness, nor can they weed out someone with a grudge. All they really do is determine whether there's a paper tail of criminal convictions or stalking or court restraining orders. Someone planning a crime or holding a longtime grudge or who simply wants to become infamous can still acquire a firearm.

To me the notion that there should be background checks at gun shows is a good idea. But I have to wonder about the wait period. Then there is the complication of taking the money, holding the gun until the background check has cleared, and shipping the firearm. Gun shows are short-lived events. The whole idea, as at any trade show, is to let merchants and customers meet each other easily, exchange information, and make a sale. This happens in a compressed time-frame. To me, background checks in such a situation are impractical. Better to just ban gun shows, right? Imagine the backlash on that one.

In the media we frequently hear about police not wanting to be out-gunned, and who can blame them? Let's remember, here, the clarion call for more powerful handguns back when the .38 revolvers police were carrying became the equivalent of peashooters in the face of criminals armed with Glocks, and the arms race keeps escalating. Killers and thugs can easily obtain far more powerful weapons today. If police feel the desperate need to stay abreast of more firepower in the hands of criminals, what about private citizens?

The notion that in the face of imminent danger or death people can call 911 and wait for the police galloping to the rescue is asinine. If it doesn't work in the cities, and it doesn't, it is hopeless in small-town and rural America. You are on your own.

How many people ward off violence in their homes because they have easy access to a gun? Nobody knows, because (a) the people involved in such situations seldom report them, and (b) seldom do Big Media report even the fraction of incidents in which people do step forward.

Finally, the idea that any background check law can include private sales of firearms is beyond reason. There is absolutely no way to enforce it. If I want to sell a shotgun to my Uncle Fudd, or trade a .38 Smith and Wesson to a friend for a muzzleloader, who on God's green earth would know about it, and step in to demand a background check? "Absurd" doesn't even cover it. Where do these people live? La-La Land?

And then we get down to trigger locks, and storing ammunition in a separate place. Wow, does this make sense. You need a gun in a hurry, and you have to defeat the trigger lock, and then go off to some other part of the house to scramble around for the ammo. Or your gun is in a safe with a three-digit combination. Right - I can barely remember the last four digits of my Social Security number.

How I wish there were simple solutions to the gun violence. There aren't. The situation boils down not to the availability of guns, but keeping them out of the hands of psychopaths. Until someone comes up with a practical solution to millions of guns out there available to bad people, more gun control laws are nothing more than a placebo.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or e-mail at

John Harrigan

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