Commentary

On the March: Clinton, Gore and a Million Moms

The much-ballyhooed million mom march for gun control draws near. True to form, demagoguery gushes from Washington, D.C. When seven kids were wounded in suspected gang warfare at the National Zoo, Vice President Gore offered a dubious cure: You guessed it, mandatory gun locks. Presumably, Gore expects the District’s teenage gangsters to examine their unlocked weapons and promptly commit to less risky diversions. Laws against murder and a ban on handguns do not deter Washington’s young hoods, but the vice president supposes that they will be persuaded to use safety locks, which are currently available on 90 percent of new guns.

Gore isn’t the first administration spokesman to push for mandatory locks. Remember, Clinton touted that remedy when a Michigan six year old, who lived in a crack house with no mother or father, killed a schoolmate using a loaded, stolen gun that his uncle had left behind. The president’s knee-jerk response to a problem deeply rooted in the social pathology of the underclass merely feeds the gun hysteria that has gripped the nation. And that hysteria is the reason we read stories like this one from the Washington Post (April 7): “Four 6-year-old boys were suspended from school for pointing fingers at one another as mock guns in a game of ‘cops and robbers’ on the playground.”

Just look at the appalling amount of violence in Washington. Then consider this facile explanation by city officials: Deadly weapons are imported, we’re told, from Arlington, Virginia, a contiguous urban community where guns are less rigorously regulated. Maybe so, but FBI data indicate that the murder rate in D.C. is 57 per 100,000, while the rate in Arlington is only 1.6 per 100,000. The real tragedy is not the availability of guns but illegitimacy, unemployment, dysfunctional schools and drug and alcohol abuse. Naturally, it’s easier to blame an inanimate object than to come to grips with troublesome inner-city afflictions.

Because many of those afflictions grew out of flawed public policy, we cannot simply dismiss the Clinton-Gore remedies as harmless, feel-good politics. Indeed, they are the centerpiece of the million mom rally, with sufficient support among poll-sensitive Republicans to make their enactment a likely if futile outcome. To be blunt, the administration and the moms are wrong; their recommendations won’t work. Simplistic solutions will exacerbate the gun problem by camouflaging the root causes of violent behavior and, simultaneously, stripping law-abiding citizens of the most effective means of self-defense. Safety locks are but one example. Here are some other well-hyped therapies:

  • How about smart guns? Colt Manufacturing has estimated that 60 million nonowners would consider buying smart guns. Do anti-gun advocates really want to arm suburban soccer moms? Will smart guns prevent suicides, which account for more than half of the 32,000 gun-related deaths each year? Or homicides, which are the second leading cause? Not many of those deaths are traced to lost or stolen guns. That leaves accidents — fewer than 1,000 each year, almost all of which are preventable by existing technology like magazine disconnects and heavier trigger pulls. Meanwhile, inflated prices for high-tech weapons will shut out poorer consumers, who most need protection from fully armed criminals.
  • Background checks at gun shows? The administration has provided absolutely no evidence that such shows are an important source of criminals’ guns. A 1997 Justice Department study indicated that only 2 percent of felons acquired their guns at shows, including purchases from licensed dealers, who already conduct background checks.
  • Why not registration? “Should people … have to register guns like they register their cars?” asked President Clinton. “Do I think that? Of course I do,” he answered. Never mind that cars are not federally registered and that registration would mean a national database containing the names of every peaceful gun owner. Arguably, the push for federal registration is the first step down the road toward confiscation. That’s precisely what some officials and advocacy groups are urging. Listen to Pete Shields, founder of Handgun Control: “The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold… . The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns … totally illegal.”

Historically, proliferating gun laws have gone hand in hand with an explosion of violent crime. Only during the past decade — with vigorous enforcement, a booming economy and an aging population — have we seen dramatic reductions in crime. With all due respect to concerned moms, safer streets aren’t tied to gun control. March organizers may wish us to believe that mothers somehow possess special wisdom on the question of guns in America. But bad ideas are not transformed into effective public policy merely because the advocates have maternal instincts. If moms truly want to transcend the grubbiness of politics, let them promote better parenting — a subject on which they have unique expertise.

Robert A. Levy is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.