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Commentary

Good Citizens and Guns


     
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Wednesday marked one year since the massacre at Virginia Tech by mentally-disturbed student Seung-Hui Cho. Last week the university offered anguished parents a settlement of $100,000 per murdered child.

There are three things wrong with this: First, even in financial terms, it is hopelessly inadequate to redress the deaths of these talented young people.

Second, it does nothing to correct the useless, symbolic policy which facilitated their deaths.

Third, if you don’t think that the policy is wrong,Virginia Tech has no liability for the deaths it facilitated.

That policy is the “gun-free zone.” Even if the victims had possessed permits to carry a gun, Virginia Tech forbade them to have that means of self-defense while on campus. This ensured that only the killer (who, of course, violated the “gun-free zone” policy just as he violated the laws against murder) and uniformed police would have guns. Obviously the university could not afford to station officers in every lecture hall.

Yet nothing less would substitute for the victims themselves having had the power to stop the massacre.

Israel has a better alternative. Decades ago, Palestinian terrorism was being directed at schools. Yasser Arafat calculated that small children can’t shoot back, and that killing them was the best way to terrify parents into fleeing Israel.

Israel’s response?

They armed schoolteachers and school bus drivers. Now, even suicide terrorists don’t attack schools -- lest they be shot down before they can reach their helpless victims.

Thousands of civilians are armed all across Israel, as the following incidents illustrate:

* Shavei Shomron -- A Palestinian shot into a kindergarten, but did not dare to enter. Next he attacked neighboring buildings, where he was killed by a civilian gun owner.

* Bethlehem -- A terrorist threw one bomb into a supermarket, but was prevented from throwing another when a shopper shot him in the head with a gun from her purse.

* Tel Aviv -- William Hazan, his wife, and some friends were eating in a restaurant when a terrorist began machine-gunning the establishment. Ducking under a table, Hazan killed him with a pistol he had carried for years.

Such incidents are numerous not only in Israel but in the U.S. as well. Last December, a woman parishioner shot and killed a gunman who had just slaughtered four unarmed people in a crowded Colorado church complex.

Three separate school massacres have been ended when good citizens violated the schools’ “gun-free zone” policies by rushing to their cars for guns with which they were then able to arrest the perpetrators.

But for those policies, they might have been carrying their guns, and the massacres could have been ended earlier -- and with fewer deaths.

Since 1980, the majority of states have adopted laws under which five million law-abiding responsible adults have gun-carry permits.

Contrary to dire predictions, permit-holders have not abused the privilege -- and murders and other violent crimes have been sharply reduced.

Everyone opposes violent crime (except the perpetrators). “Gun-free zone” policies which disarm everyone (except the perpetrators) facilitate murder rather than precluding it.

Universities and businesses who facilitate murder by imposing such empty symbolism should be held strictly liable for the killings those policies facilitate.


Don B. Kates is a criminologist and constitutional lawyer who is a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.






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