A few days aro, I said that the recent upsurge in crime here could have been predicted.
The city had deliberately been reducing the size of its police department. And most of the policemen who had left had been prime-of-life veterans. They were old enough to know the ropes but still young enough to be full of vim and vinegar. With all those good cops gone, the bad guys were sure to become more active.
However, John Pierre-Benoist of Annandale puts forward another theory, and it has some merit. He thinks the weakening of the Metropolitan Police Department was a contributory factor, but not as important as the city's gun laws.
He points out: "The District of Columbia has the nation's most stringent gun control law and one of the nation's highest crime rates."
Why? His explanation is that when citizens are forbidden to own guns, "criminals know they can commit crimes with impunity. The strongest advocate of gun control is always the armed robber. He/she knows that there is no danger to the criminal if the citizenry is disarmed."
The criminal, being a criminal, will pay no more attention to laws forbidding the ownership of guns than he will to law forbidding him to break into your house or mine. He'll be armed: we won't be.
John predicts that if the District's gun law is repealed and citizens are again permitted to "own and bear arms," there will be a dramatic decrease in crime.
There is undoubtedly some merit to john's argument. Nothing reduces holdup statistics as quickly as a series of new pictures showing dead holdup men on the sidewalk.
However, violence is a poor solution for any problem. Impractical, too.
Even in jurisdictions where guns may be owned, the carrying of concealed weapons is prohibited. The average citizen does not carry a gun as he walks along the street. And if he does have a gun, there is little chance that he will be able to draw it before being shot by a criminal who already has his own gun cocked and ready.
If a citizen who sees "a suspicious person" approaching does not immediately whip out his illegally concealed weapon, he will be easy prey if the approaching stranger really turns out to be a thug with gun in hand. On the other hand, if it becomes the custom for honest citizen to draw their guns every time somebody looks suspicious to them, we'll all be a danger.
On each encounter it would be an even bet whether one honest bumbler would shoot another honest bumbler who was fearfully gripping his own hidden weapon "in self-defense" or whether he'd shoot himself in the foot as he unlimbered his artillery.
Crime problem and gun problems are major concerns for modern urbanites, but there are no easy solutions.
I do not agree with those who think the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own and "bear" arms without restriction. Nor do I agree with those who advocate a complete ban on all privately owned guns -- a prohibition that criminals circumvent with ease wherever it exists. I think the best solution must lie somewhere in between those two extremes.
Handgun Control, Inc. (810 18th St. Nw. Washington, D.c. 20006, phone 638-4723) tries to keep a "body count" on all who lose their lives because of handguns. So far this year, the toll is 4,429. In July, 727 people were killed with handguns -- a one-month record.
Those who died were people not statistics. In July, they included: Desmond Sherry, 29, a Cleveland policeman, shot and killed at a traffic light on his way home from work; Lewis Barton, 26, Gunned down as he drove on Genevieve Avenue in St. Louis; Fannie Smith, 42 shot in her car while waiting at a traffic light in Chattanooga; William A. Elam, 54, shot dead by a woman in Fayetteville, N.C., after their cars collided; Palmer Anderson, 31, shot in the head as he sat in his car in a Roxbury shopping mall; Randall Fawcett, 19, shot and killed on a Texas highway. He was a cousin of Farrah Fawcett.
What can we do? My own program includes these major points:
I'd have more and better-trained police officers. I'm for swift, certain and severe sentences for all gun violations, including the theft of or unlicensed buying or selling of guns, or their use in perpetrating any illegal act.
I would require a permit for handgun ownership. Guns and owners would be registered, just as autos and drivers are. No handgun permit would be issued to a minor, a felon, or a person with a history of mental or emotional problems. I would retain laws against carrying concealed weapons.
Most important of all, I would require every applicant for a permit to demonstrate that he has been schooled in the safe operation and storage of his weapon.
After all, one must pass a test to get a drivers's license, and guns are almost as dangerous as cars.