Political Physics: Is One Gun A Month Enough?


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

In June 2009 Tamrah Leonard, a 13 year old girl, was killed by a stray bullet during a gang-related driveby shooting at a neighborhood block party in Trenton. At least twenty shots were fired from an automatic gun into the crowd of about 100 people, according to police, and Tamrah Leonard was the only person hit.

Gun ControlHer memory was invoked by the Mayor of the City of Trenton at a bill signing last week where the Governor of the State of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, signed legislation that limits handgun purchases in the state to one per month. Before signing it, Governor Corzine said he expected the ban on bulk handgun sales to reduce the number of weapons used in street crimes.

“Allowing people to purchase fewer handguns means reduced profits for gun traffickers,” he said. “Nothing is more dangerous than to have the vast proliferation of guns in the hands of individuals who want to perpetuate violence in our communities,” Corzine said.

Corzine is absolutely right; a gun in the hands of a violent individual is dangerous. And often children like Tamrah get caught in the crossfire.

This was clear even before young Tamrah lost her life. This was clear even before three college-bound friends were gunned down on a Newark schoolyard in August 2007. It was clear before Virginia Tech and even Columbine.

According to a Center for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics 2009 Mortality Report, “in 2006, incidents of gun murders, gun suicides, and unintentional shootings nationwide killed 3,218 American children and teens ages 19 and under, an increase of 6.3% from the nationwide 2005 total of 3,027. This means that in the U.S. an average of 9 young people are killed each day by guns.”

The legislation makes NJ the fourth state in the country, along with Virginia, Maryland and California, to limit the number of handguns that can be purchased within a set period of time. According to a Congressional Research Service report, opponents of this type of legislation deny that gun control policies “keep firearms out of the hands of high-risk persons; rather, they argue, controls often create burdens for law-abiding citizens and infringe upon constitutional rights provided by the Second Amendment. Some argue further that widespread gun ownership is one of the best deterrents to crime as well as to potential tyranny, whether by gangs or by government.”

In his column in the St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner, Kurt Hofmann stated…..

Even if limiting purchasers to one handgun per month were effective at reducing crime, that’s not how Constitutionally guaranteed, fundamental human rights work. Lives could presumably be saved by trampling the Fourth Amendment, because more violent would-be murderers could be put away before they wrought their carnage, if the authorities could perform more searches and seizures without the cumbersome due process. Other killings could be prevented by ignoring Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, etc. Our rights are not predicated on whether or not some evil people will abuse them. Tyrannical societies very often have very little street crime, but that does not make them good places to live.

Perhaps Mr. Hofmann is correct and tyrannical societies are not good places to live. However, neither are communities where gang members are shooting at each other and killing innocent people in their midst.

And besides there is statistical evidence that supports the validity of legislation that limits multiple gun purchasing. The Legal Community Against Violence issued a report in 2008 entitled, Regulating Guns in America – An Evaluation and Comparative Analysis of Federal, State and Selected Local Gun Laws, found “that handguns sold in multiple sales to the same individual purchaser are frequently used in crime. In fact, 20% of retail handguns recovered in crime were purchased as part of a multiple sale.” In addition, according to the 1997 Survey of State Prison Inmates, among those possessing a gun, 80% said the source of the gun was “family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source” and 15% of state inmates and 13% of federal inmates used a handgun during the commission of the crime that landed them in prison.

Moreover, in states like Virginia the question of whether or not this type of legislation is working has been answered. Figures compiled by the anti-gun group Handgun Control Inc. “show that the percentage of guns used in crime and traced back to Virginia gun dealers fell by 61% for guns recovered in New York, 67% for guns recovered in Massachusetts and 38% for guns recovered in New Jersey.”

For me, the real issue is not whether or not gun control is needed, but whether or not a “one gun a month law” is enough. Handguns are dangerous, but what about semi-automatic weapons? And what about gun shows where in some states unlicensed dealers can sell an unlimited number of guns? It seems to me that a patchwork of local and state legislation is not a comprehensive answer.

What we really need is comprehensive gun control legislation at the federal level, but I’m not sure how realistic that is today in the US.

Pro-gun organizations like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America spend millions of dollars annually to fight gun control efforts and support pro-gun politicians, causes, etc.

And the US firearms industry includes about 200 companies with combined annual revenue of $2 billion.

There is a lot more at play here than just the Second Amendment.