Nothing unpleasant occurs in twenty-first-century America without someone immediately demanding that Something Must Be Done, preferably quickly. Often as not, the proposed solution is even worse than the perceived problem. And just as often, nobody on either side of the issue is able to make anything resembling a case. To see this process in action, here's a story by Bryan Dean of The Oklahoman, which appeared on Page 1A with the headline OKC POLICE CHIEF WANTS TOUGHER GUN LAWS, a headline it doesn't have online. We'll take it a couple of paragraphs or so at a time.

In Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty's 33 years on the force, he can't remember an officer being as outgunned as Katie Lawson was Aug. 29.

Lawson was aiding a county sheriff's deputy on a drunken driving call when she was ambushed and shot multiple times by a suspect wielding an AR-15 rifle a civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle. She survived in part by pulling her police-issue .45-caliber pistol and firing back. Her shots chased off the suspect who was no more than 20 feet from her squad car and had fired 26 rounds.

Actually, the M16 is a military version of the AR-15, but let that pass. The pivotal phrase here is "33 years": if something like this happens once every third of a century or so, it's hardly epidemic, is it?

Police believe Hector Escalante, 18, pulled the trigger in an effort to free his father, who had been arrested by the sheriff's deputy. Escalante's mother, Vilma Escalante, 52, and brother, Alex Mercado, 17, are also charged in the case.

So how does a teenager get an AR-15?

Police don't know, and Citty said he'd like to see the law changed to make it harder for criminals to get such weapons and easier for police to trace them.

How does a teenager get anything? Either he's buying on the black market, in which case the law wouldn't have made any difference, or someone bought it for him, in which case the law wouldn't have made any difference.

Gun rights advocates said new gun laws aren't the answer.

"This has been proposed before, and it has been soundly rejected every time," said Charles Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Rifle Association.

A federal ban on assault weapons outlawed the AR-15 and other semi-automatic versions of assault rifles, along with high-capacity magazines. That law expired in 2004. The AR-15, along with semi-automatic versions of the AK-47 and other popular assault rifles, can now be purchased legally.

The fact that the ban, misguided as it was, was enacted in the first place would seem to contradict Smith's "soundly rejected every time" claim. More important, though, is the fact that said ban, in its effort to nail down things to the nth degree, inevitably created its own set of loopholes. Consider, if you will, the XM-15: this was an AR-15 minus the lug to fix a bayonet and the barrel-threading feature. Since it was not an AR-15 as defined by law, and since it did not have the features prohibited elsewhere in the law well, there's your loophole. In 2007, a new ban was proposed which left the definitions sufficiently open-ended to avoid this particular issue; it never passed either house of Congress, so in 2008 a new version of the old ban was proposed, which died a similar death.

Oh, and the question of so-called "high-capacity magazines" has been addressed thusly: "[B]y saying you're in favor of magazines that hold no more than X rounds, you're publicly stating that it's only X+1 bodies that bother you."

Citty said he supports an individual's right to own a gun, but he sees no practical reason why someone needs an AR-15 or similar weapon.

"Oh, you're only allowed to purchase what you need." The Nanny State at its condescending worst.

Investigators tracked the gun used to shoot Lawson to a dealer in Tulsa. That sale is traceable because gun dealers are required to track who they sell to. The original buyer later went to a gun show with a sign around his neck advertising the rifle for sale.

From there, police can't track who bought or sold it. The law does not require private gun owners to keep paperwork showing who they sell their guns to.

For that matter, the law also doesn't require individuals who steal guns to keep paperwork showing who they stole their guns from from whom they stole their guns. Imagine that.

"We have no idea how many hands it went through before it got to the person who ultimately used it on Katie," Citty said. "There are just more and more assault rifles out there, and it is becoming a bigger threat to law enforcement each day. They are outgunned."

We can't count them, and we can't track them, but somehow we know that there are "more and more" of them. Or at least more of them than there were 33 years ago.

Lawson was shot six times. One shot grazed her cheek and went through her ear. Two more hit her in the left buttock. She was shot once in the right calf, and two more bullets were stopped by her bulletproof vest. Normally, a vest will not stop an AR-15 round.

Investigators believe the vest stopped the bullets because they were slowed down when they went through her squad car's door.

And twenty rounds went nowhere in particular. Given the priorities of criminals, I'd assume these were .223 Remington, which don't cost all that much compared to some higher-powered rounds. Still, had the shooter been able to draw a bead on Lawson, he might have done the job with one round shot from some lowly varmint rifle, and no one not actually getting money from George Soros is suggesting that those be banned.

Citty said the perception that criminals only use stolen weapons is a myth. He said roughly 40 percent of the guns officers seize in large-scale busts are stolen. Many others are sold legally to people who act as gun dealers to gang members and other criminals.

Unscrupulous gun sellers often either don't ask questions when selling firearms or know they are selling to felons and do it anyway, Citty said.

"I don't quite understand why we don't require some form of title like we do when we purchase a vehicle for somebody," Citty said. "It would benefit law enforcement tremendously when the guns are stolen or used illegally."

Surely you're not equating vehicles with firearms, are you, Chief? Because operating a vehicle is a privilege granted by the state. Ownership of weapons isn't.

Gun rights advocates have long opposed government registration of firearms. Smith said requiring individual gun owners to keep paperwork showing who buys their guns is an infringement of the Second Amendment.

"That's a situation that borders on registration," Smith said. "I think most of the individual firearm sales go to legitimate law-abiding citizens. Any responsible firearm owner who sells a gun will note in his own records who it was sold to."

For the record, I couldn't tell you what happened to the fellow who got my old S&W Model 66 thirty-three (approximately) years ago: he's just a name.

Citty said officers are running into guns at a much higher rate now than they did 20 years ago, even on routine traffic stops. He said there has to be a balance so that people can exercise their right to own a gun without subjecting officers to military-style weapons in the hands of criminals.

Easily done. All you have to do is pick up everyone who's a criminal, who's ever been a criminal, or who might ever be a criminal, and then transport them en masse to the far side of Mars. You'll have to collect all the body armor first, though.

Now I'm wondering if maybe I should get an AR-15. I have no specific need for one, or even any particular targets in mind, but hey, I spent a fair amount of money stocking up on incandescent light bulbs, another useful product which the government has deemed itself not bound to respect. Not that I'm proposing a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to own light bulbs.

Not yet, anyway.

The Vent

  16 January 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill