Killing Made Easy

Monday, January 16, 2006

WITH PITIFULLY little notice paid, another rash of year-end homicide statistics points up the madness of this country's fascination with handguns. The domestic arms race continues full tilt. More kids are taking handguns to school in Maryland and Virginia, according to a report by The Post's Daniel de Vise, and one big, sorry reason is that more than a few of them are responding to a perceived threat of violence in their midst. Murders by handguns continue to rock Prince George's County and the District with a vengeance.

Three Maryland jurisdictions -- Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George's -- accounted for more than half of all school weapons incidents (the statistics include knives) in the state. Prince George's tallied 533 weapon suspensions in 2004-05, up 74 percent from 306 in 1999-2000. But the prevalence of weapons in the schools is only one reflection of the regional scene and that of the nation as a whole. Police in most jurisdictions report that the majority of killings occur after two men argue and one or both pull out guns.

There's an obvious thread here that members of Congress choose not to see: The all-too-free flow of handguns, a warped way of life that cows presidents and members of Congress who ought to recognize that the availability of handguns is murderous. The problem is that Americans own 65 million handguns and the only effective safety measure would be a ban on these made-for-murder weapons. As writer Jenny Price noted in a Dec. 25 op-ed in The Post, only 160 of the 12,000 guns used to kill people every year are employed in legitimate self-defense; guns in the home are used seven times more often for homicide than for self-defense.

Lawmakers know all this and know as well that handguns -- however exalted they seem to be in America -- should not be in general circulation. Political long shot that it may be, a national ban on the general manufacture, sale and ownership of handguns ought be enacted. It would not pacify kids or adults with violent tendencies, and it might not curb general criminal activity markedly. But it might well save thousands of lives. Handgun exceptions could be made for federal, state and local law enforcement and military agencies; collectors of antique firearms; federally licensed handgun sporting clubs with certain safety procedures; security guard services; and licensed dealers, importers or manufacturers that are determined to be meeting those needs.

Such a bill was proposed more than a decade ago by Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), who has since died. "I hear people say it's a radical proposal," he said then. "Well, I think to have the current situation is radical. No other country has anything like it." He described slaughter by handguns as killing in record numbers, threatening education and pushing the high costs of education even higher. So what's new today?

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