Friday, March 05, 2010

Chicago's Pointless Handgun Ban

When Chicago passed a ban on handgun ownership in 1982, it was part of a trend. Washington, D.C. had done it in 1976, and a few Chicago suburbs took up the cause in the following years. They all expected to reduce the number of guns and thus curtail bloodshed. District of Columbia Attorney General Linda Singer told The Washington Post in 2007, "It's a pretty common-sense idea that the more guns there are around, the more gun violence you'll have." Nadine Winters, a member of the Washington city council in 1976, said she assumed at the time that the policy "would spread to other places."

But the fad never really caught fire -- even before last summer, when the Supreme Court struck down the D.C. law and cast doubt on the others, including the Chicago ordinance before the court Tuesday. The Second Amendment may kill such restrictions, but in most places, it wasn't needed to keep them from hatching in the first place. Maybe that's because there were so many flaws in the basic idea. Or maybe it was because strict gun control makes even less sense at the municipal level than it does on a broader scale. At any rate, the policy turned out to be a comprehensive dud.

In the years following its ban, Washington did not generate a decline in gun murders. In fact, the number of killings rose by 156 percent -- at a time when murders nationally increased by just 32 percent. For a while, the city vied regularly for the title of murder capital of America. Chicago followed a similar course. In the decade after it outlawed handguns, murders jumped by 41 percent, compared to an 18 percent rise in the entire United States.

One problem is that the bans didn't actually have any discernible effect on the availability of guns to people with felonious intent. As with drugs and hookers, when there is a demand for guns, there will always be a supply. Who places the highest value on owning a firearm? Criminals. Who is least likely to fear being prosecuted for violating the law? Criminals. Who is most likely to have access to illicit dealers? You guessed it.

If we were starting out in a country with zero guns, it might be possible to keep such weapons away from bad guys. But that's not this country, which has more than 200 million firearms in private hands and a large perpetual supply of legal handguns. Only a tiny percentage of those weapons has to be diverted to the underground trade for crooks to acquire all the firepower they need. While gun bans greatly impede the law-abiding, they pose only a trivial inconvenience to the lawless.

This is especially true at the local level. Banning guns from one city makes about as much sense as banning them on one block. It's hard enough to halt the flow of guns over international borders, where governments police traffic. It's impossible to stop them from crossing municipal boundaries -- which are unmonitored, undefended and practically invisible. Tens of thousands of cars enter Washington and Chicago each day from places where guns are easily and legally obtainable. Any of those vehicles could be transporting a carton of pistols to sell to willing thugs. If you're on an island, you're going to get splashed by the waves.

The proponents obviously knew all along this city-by-city approach had serious shortcomings. But they figured it was bound to curtail gun availability somewhat. They also hoped that by prohibiting handguns in one place, they were beginning a bigger process. First, they expected that other cities and states would follow suit. Second, they wagered that strict controls at the local level would acclimate Americans to new regulations at the national level.

But things didn't work out that way. The persistence of crime in supposedly gun-free zones didn't build support for broader gun control by showing the limits of piecemeal legislation. It weakened the case, by proving that such regulations have little impact on the people who present the biggest danger. Instead of a broad upward avenue, it was a dead end.

Gun control supporters fear that if the Supreme Court invalidates local handgun bans, the consequences will be nothing but bad. That would be easier to believe if the laws had ever done any good.


California: Man holds suspected burglar at gunpoint until police arrive: "He’s 70 years old, and his health isn’t what it used to be, but Raymond Michel is not someone who should be taken lightly. Michel and his wife, Dawn, had returned home on Ivan Avenue about 1 p.m. after taking their grandson to a doctor’s appointment. The 9-year-old grandson noticed a light on in a downstairs bedroom and asked his grandmother if she had left it on. Dawn Michel said she looked in the room and noticed some items weren’t where they were supposed to be. Then she and her grandson went outside and saw a garbage bag on the ground, along with a window screen that had been knocked out of a second-floor window. Jewelry and money were in the bag. Dawn Michel told her husband someone had been in the house. Raymond Michel said he armed himself with a handgun and walked upstairs. Items from the bedroom closet were strewn about the floor, and Raymond Michel noticed that the bathroom door was almost completely closed. He and his wife always keep that door open. He kicked the door, and it stopped partway as it struck the intruder, Raymond Michel said. The suspect stepped from behind the door and leveled a rifle at the homeowner, he said. Raymond Michel, who said he was holding his handgun at waist level, pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the door, shattered the upper left corner of the mirror and entered the wall. The suspect dropped to the floor, and Raymond Michel at first thought he had hit him. Raymond Michel said he told him to stay down and kept the gun pointed at him. His wife called 911."

Mich.: Teen robber shot by off-duty cop: "It was a big surprise for a teenager looking for an easy target Tuesday night in Kalamazoo. Police say a 19-year-old man wearing a mask and flashing a gun tried to rob an off-duty officer at Drakes Pond Apartment Complex on Drake Road. The suspect approached 24-year-old Derrick Turner from behind, but the three year member of the force fired off a single shot, hitting the 19-year-old in the calf. “You're certainly going to be more aware of your surroundings than a normal citizen, and I think that probably helped Officer Turner in this situation,' said Chief Jeff Hadley of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. After being shot, the suspect fled the scene, hopping into a nearby car, where he was driven to a hospital in Battle Creek. Investigators eventually caught up with the suspects there, and police were back on the scene of the shooting Wednesday morning, looking for more evidence. Officer Turner was off-duty at the time of the shooting, he had just finished his shift and was unloading his car at the apartment complex when the incident occurred. “Not sure how the lighting was in that area at the time,” said Chief Hadley, “but he could have easily been mistaken as a normal citizen with dark clothing.” Newschannel 3 has been told that at the time of the shooting, Officer Turner was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and a police t-shirt with a jacket over the top, which made it more difficult to tell he was an officer.

Guns for all, privileges or immunities for none: "Scalia asked Gura early in his 20 minutes of argument time on Tuesday: ‘Mr. Gura, do you think it is at all easier to bring the Second Amendment under the Privileges and Immunities Clause than it is to bring it under our established law of substantive due … process? … Why are you asking us to overrule 150, 140 years of prior law, when — when you can reach your result under substantive due — I mean, you know, unless you are bucking for a — a place on some law school faculty …?’ Scalia, reputedly a constitutional originalist, flashed some ugly colors with that laugh-provoking comment: He’d rather go with the easy precedential flow — even given a substantive due process argument that he openly admits he thinks is wrong but which he’s ‘acquiesced’ to — than vindicate the actual intentions of the framers of a very important constitutional amendment.”

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