Who Is Al Gore Kidding?

On guns and the National Zoo, Gore is either dishonest or stupid

By Dave Kopel and Clayton E. Cramer

4/27/00 10:45 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on the gun issue in the 2000 election.

We really have to have mandatory child safety trigger locks, and photo license IDs for the purchase of new handguns," Al Gore told a Democratic fundraising audience, as he broke the news of Monday's shooting at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Who is Al Gore kidding? The District of Columbia already has much more gun control than "photo license IDs for the purchase of new handguns." You can't buy new handguns in DC; you can't even bring one into the District if you move there. If you live in DC, you can't legally buy a handgun anywhere else.

All other firearms must be registered, and either stored disassembled, or locked up and therefore inaccessible for home defense. DC already has gun control laws far more severe than any Gore claims he wants at the national level.

Gore asserts that the National Zoo shooting proves the case for "mandatory child safety trigger locks." If there is an argument for "mandatory child safety trigger locks," it would be that they prevent a child from finding a loaded gun, playing with it, and unintentionally killing himself or another child. But there aren't as many such accidents as you think.

In 1997, the National Center for Health Statistics reported a total of 21 accidental handgun deaths for children through age 14. No, that's not a typo: 21 deaths.

Even the 15-19 year olds only add another 34 handgun accidental deaths in the entire United States. Don't believe us? Check it out yourself. Look under ICD 922.0 for handgun accidental deaths.

What about the supposed 12/13/15/17 children a day that are killed by gunfire in the United States? That includes "children" who are 19 years old, suicides, murders, hunting accidents, a very large number of gang members killing other gang members, and both police and civilians shooting "children" who are engaged in rape, armed robbery, and attempted murder.

There is a real problem with violence in the U.S. (and not just gun violence), but almost all of it is intentional misuse of a gun. The "mandatory child safety trigger locks" aren't going to make a difference for intentional misuses.

Can trigger locks reduce handgun suicides by kids? Well, perhaps if there are no workshop tools in the house, since many gun locks can be pried off with a screwdriver in five minutes, or destroyed with a power drill even quicker.

Like handgun accidental deaths, child handgun suicide in the U.S. is a problem that is larger in the popular conception than in reality. The National Center for Health Statistics reports 32 suicides by handguns for children 0-14 in 1997. Yes, just 32 for the whole country. Throw in the 15-19 year olds, and you get 179 more. (That's ICD 955.0 for handgun suicides, if you want to check our figures.)

These are still tragedies, but it's hard to really believe that trigger locks are going to make much of a dent in those suicides, especially as long as drills are in the same house with the children, and high bridges, rope, and automobile exhaust remain readily available to depressed kids.

Certainly there are many gun control advocates who are sincere but honestly mistaken or misinformed. But when you see Al Gore claim that trigger locks and photo ID gun licenses will stop thugs like the one at the National Zoo from carrying guns and using them viciously, one has to conclude that Gore is either dishonest, or astonishingly stupid. Whichever he is, he is dancing in the blood of innocents, grotesquely trying to move his poll numbers, while distracting attention from the very serious problem of teen criminal violence.

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