THE SELF-proclaimed champions of the Second Amendment (as interpreted by them) say that if people didn't kill with handguns, they'd do it with something else -- and indeed they do, just about every day. People stab, stomp, beat, strangle and even run over one another with depressing frequency. But a knife, fist, rope or shod foot doesn't generally miss its target and kill a woman in her living room, or a grandmother shepherding children to safety. Nor does it extend a killer's power, allowing him to strike down his victim from across a counter, or an alley, or through a door.
Over the long weekend, a man drove around Chicago and environs firing from a car at African Americans, Jews and people of Asian descent. He killed two persons and wounded nine others without having to approach them or even get out of the car. That's the thing about a handgun: It's far more effective for such mayhem than even a rifle. You can't easily fire a rifle while driving, or conceal it from the policeman who pulls you over. With a handgun, one can, just on impulse, take a shot at anyone who crosses him on the highway, or who happens to give him what might be interpreted as a dirty look, or who is of the wrong race, color or religion.
Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, the 21-year-old man believed to have committed the racial slayings, shot himself to death Monday as the police closed in. Two handguns were in his possession. He was undoubtedly troubled, as are many people who turn to violence. But with the sort of ballistic capability available to just about anybody in this country, he was able to visit his troubles on a number of other people, and their grieving families and friends.
The people in the gun lobby say, always and ever, that if guns are restricted, those who intend to use them for crime will get them anyway. This isn't exactly true: a lot of potentially dangerous people are deterred or deflected by legal restrictions. A lot more would be much less likely to have handguns if the weapons weren't so widely and freely distributed. This is a traffic that ought to be ended -- that is being ended, in advanced countries.