"Guns don't kill people; people do." We've been hearing that slogan from the NRA for years, and it's just as disingenuous now as it ever was.
The NRA is so determined to, well, stick to its guns that even after U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people were shot in Tucson recently, it warned Congress not to "mess with" the right to carry firearms. Gun rights activists are, if anything, more stubborn now about their rights even to use such accessories as clips that enable the firing of 30 rounds or more with no reload ("Mad Magazine," February 3, 2011), the device that facilitated the mass shooting in Tucson.
Since the NRA still uses this shibboleth to deny that the special technology of guns, even high-powered repeaters, has anything to do with the atrocities in which they're involved, let's take another look at the logic of "guns don't kill people; people do."
The statement's credibility got a setback January 13 when a gun took on a life of its own in a Texas restaurant. A man who was licensed to carry a concealed handgun had forgotten that his gun was in his jacket pocket; it slipped out, hit the floor and fired. The bullet hit a 71-year-old woman in the hip and traveled through her abdomen. That it didn't kill her was just luck. The gun was a Derringer of a sort, local police told one newspaper, "which has a history of easily being discharged."
Does anyone believe that, as the NRA carries on with its agenda to make it legal for people in state after state to carry guns into bars, restaurants, even churches, there won't be more such accidents?
Does anyone think that people who are killed or wounded are somehow less victimized because a shooting is unintentional?
What's going on in heat-packing Texas these days is like an updated cowboy movie on crack. One evening last September, when a couple in Corpus Christi had friends over, a guest picked up a gun and killed the hostess with one bullet because, he said, he thought he was "firing" a gun-shaped cigarette lighter. Press reports did not explain why a gun was lying around so casually that someone who claimed not even to know it was a gun picked it up.
Two years ago in October, the Valley was rocked when eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an UZI at a gun meet. Guns don't kill people? An UZI is a combat weapon that can shoot up to 1,700 rounds a minute, and the kick is so rapid that the gun, while firing, is physically hard to handle. Some believe that's how it came to be turned on the child's head.
If it were true that people, not guns, kill (or wound) people, then in these cases there should have been a responsible person. Yet a grand jury declined to indict the Corpus Christi shooter; no charge has yet been filed in the Kingwood case; and the first of three defendants to be charged in the UZI incident has been acquitted—all because the view that evidently prevailed, unlike the NRA's, was that the guns had done the shooting, in one case without human agency, in all three without human intent.
To get the perspective of someone who deals with guns on a regular basis, the Advocate talked with Sgt. John Delaney, a 29-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department. Delaney has spent 24 of those years with the Department's narcotics division and has arrested, he says, over 5,000 people. "I firmly believe the gun laws should be stricter than they are," he said. "When I first got into narcotics, if we found a gun, we would talk about it for a week. Now when we go on raids, it's an event when we don't find a gun."
The idea that a proliferation of guns in the hands of law-abiding owners is harmless doesn't square with his experience. "Most of the guns come from people getting their guns stolen, and they get out on the street," he said. The owners may be licensed, they may be good citizens, but "their homes are getting broken into and the guns are stolen."
As for the statement that guns don't kill people, Delaney said, "There's definitely flaws to it. The availability of a weapon for somebody who intends to kill somebody makes the crime more inevitable."