Sure, Blame the Gun

On the media's love affair with the Santee school shooting.

Mr. Kopel is the research director of the Independence Institute, & Ari Armstrong is the publisher of the Colorado Freedom Report.

National Review Online. March 9, 2001 9:05 a.m. More by Kopel on school shootings.

Sure, blame the gun.

Never mind that many students in government schools are routinely tormented and attacked in ways that would constitute a felony (if a school principal, rather than a ninth-grader, were the victim). Often, schools are so big and impersonal that administrators frequently don't even know there's a problem. Or schools may be so sports-focused that athletes can get away with anything.

The Santee murderer (we won't mention his name, because he doesn't deserve the publicity he sought) lived with his father; his mother lives on the other side of the continent. She is reported to have called the young man earlier this year. The killer's former girlfriend said that the killer craved his mother's attention, but never got it. The mother is so minimally aware of her child that she thought he played on all the sports teams. In fact, he played on no team sports.

The killer's father apparently didn't realize his son had severe social and emotional problems, didn't realize that maybe he shouldn't have access to the keys to the gun safe.

But it's the gun's fault — couldn't possibly have anything to do with parental responsibility.

The killer told an adult and several students he was going to shoot up the school. They did nothing. Blame the gun.

California politicians have passed some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. There's government permission and registration for every gun transfer — even giving an old squirrel rifle to your cousin. There are bans on hundreds of cosmetically incorrect firearms; no permits to carry a handgun for lawful protection — unless you've got special political connections; and laws requiring guns to be locked up to keep them away from people like the Santee murderer.

So why is California one of the most dangerous states in the Union? Don't all those laws targeting law-abiding gun owners save lives?

The problem with California gun laws in general, and California's mandatory gun storage law in particular, is that they affect precisely the wrong people.

If a father doesn't notice that his son, who is making death threats to everyone who will listen, has swiped a revolver, a mandatory gun-lock law like California's isn't going to stir him into action.

On other hand, responsible parents who obey the law and teach their children to do the same will obey the gun-lock law. These people weren't going to commit crimes with their firearms. Because of the gun-lock laws, these people end up becoming easy prey for criminals.

In Merced, California, in August 2000, a pitchfork-wielding man attacked and murdered Jessica Carpenter's 7-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister while their parents were not home. Jessica's father kept a gun in the home that was, in accordance with California law, locked in a safe. According to the family, Jessica, age 14, is a very good shot, and had the gun not been securely stored, Jessica would have been able to retrieve it and use it to fend off the murderer.

The California mandatory gun-lock law helped kill two children in Merced. That same law did nothing to save the two children in Santee.

The Merced incident may have been sensational, but it is typical of how laws like California's turn a family's home into a safe zone for predators. A John Lott and John Whitley study compared crime, accident, and suicide trends in states with California-type laws, to trends in other states, while controlling for the effect of numerous sociological variables. The study found no statistically significant reduction in accidents involving children or teenagers. Teenage gun suicide decreased, but not the overall teenage-suicide rate.

There were also large increases in violent crime and homicide:

Rapes, robberies, and burglaries rise by 9, 11, and 6 percent, respectively, as a result of safe storage laws…. The fifteen states with safe storage laws would be expected to experience 168 more murders in the first full year that the law is in effect. The number of murders peaks in the fourth full year at 380 murders…. During the five full years after the passage of the safe storage laws, the fifteen states face an annual average increase of 309 more murders, 3,860 more rapes, 24,650 more robberies, and over 25,000 more aggravated assaults.

The crime increase was most severe in states like California, where violation is a felony. But the victims of the California gun lock law never made the national news. And did you read about the four California children who were killed last week by a sociopath who ran them down with an automobile? Of course not. The media's interest in dead children depends mostly on whether those children can be exploited to promote bigger government.

So don't expect a lot of editorial cartoons criticizing parents who expect schools to raise their children. Don't expect too many congressmen with 100% voting records from Handgun Control, Inc., to give a big speech worrying that so many parents spend less than five minutes a day talking with their children. Blame the gun.

A small but terrifying subculture of America's children worship the Columbine murderers. Do you think that Time regrets putting the two killers on its cover? Do you think the national media considers for a second how many lives might be saved by simply refusing to broadcast the names of publicity-seeking mass murderers? Do you think the media has slightest regret for the saturation coverage given the Santee murder, and the three copycat crimes that followed within 48 hours? Blame the gun. Why exercise First Amendment rights in a responsible manner, when it's easier to demonize the Second Amendment?

Upon hearing the shots at Santana High School, one student grabbed a still camera and another grabbed a video camera to record the carnage. No one tried to tackle the killer during his three reloading breaks. Is it because the national media failed to tell the story of the heroic high-school student who tackled the killer in Springfield, Oregon, while the killer was reloading?

The killer became nationally famous. The hero didn't. The media lost interest in him when they found that the hero's father belonged to the NRA, and the family opposed gun control.

At Columbine, teacher Dave Sanders was justifiably lionized for dying while trying to help students flee. Most people have never heard about the adults who saved lives in Pearl, Mississippi, or Edinboro, Pennsylvania, by confronting and subduing the rampaging killers.

To the national media, civilians who take forceful action — wrestling a shooter to the ground, or pointing a handgun at the shooter's head — apparently teach the wrong lesson: that we're not all helpless; that brave people can stop criminals. That's a lesson which conflicts with the enraged helplessness promoted by the "Million" Mom March and its mean-spirited message that the only way for children to be safe is for the government to crack down on law-abiding gun owners.

Sure, blame the gun. Keep on ducking real responsibility for children's safety and moral education. Teach people to be afraid, but not how to protect themselves. Keep on hating inanimate objects and the law-abiding people who own them.

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