Knight column: Regarding concealed carry...

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In the last week or so, Florida vigilante George Zimmerman was excused for his shooting and killing an unarmed youth, Illinois lawmakers overrode Gov. Quinn's pocket veto and enacted a concealed-carry law, and the Illinois Rifle Association filed suit because concealed-carry isn't happening fast enough for it.

Feel safer?

Me neither.

Some common-sense rules for guns could save lives and money, and Americans are changing their attitude toward them. However, "gun control" may not help curb violence any more than everyday Americans packing heat.

Most gun owners aren't crazy or criminal.

So? Most motorists aren't maniacs, either.

Compare a driver's license, which requires training and testing to ensure safety, then insurance and monitoring driving records. A Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card requires far less.

In Springfield, the General Assembly's conceal-carry law – which bans hidden firearms at 23 places, including schools, libraries, government buildings, public transportation, taverns, public gatherings and any private property where the owner prohibits them – gives the State Police about six months to form an application process, after which they'll take a few months to screen applicants to exclude juveniles, violent offenders, people being treated for mental conditions, subjects of warrants, and those with DUIs on their record. There'll be a seven-member licensing board to hear appeals and a 16-week course costing $150, but 300,000 people are expected to seek permits.

In Washington, 46 U.S. Senators this spring caved in to pressure from the National Rifle Association and its gun-manufacturing patrons, killing a mild measure to check the backgrounds of people wanting to buy weapons – despite 90% of U.S. citizens supporting the idea. The NRA and some gun-rights advocates try to puff up their claim to bear arms as preparation for resisting or even combating tyranny (despite many of their vehicles festooned with "support the troops" or "back the badge" bumper stickers).

But tyranny can be fought with the First Amendment, too, according to a St. Louis law professor

"The strength of this [Second Amendment] assertion is significantly weakened by the power of the First Amendment," says Gregory P. Magarian, a constitutional law expert at Washington University.

Further, is the Second Amendment an equal/universal right, as claimed by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, or Ted Nugent or Yosemite Sam (presumably)?

On an airplane? At an All-Star Game? A corner tavern?

(The NRA's definition of an absolute right to bear arms is reminiscent of a comment by a favorite fictional vigilante, author Lee Child's ex-Army MP Jack Reacher:

"People have the right to bear arms," [she said.]

"Drug dealers don't," I said. "I never saw an amendment that says it's OK to fire automatic weapons in the middle of a crowded neighborhood. Using bullets that go through brick walls, one after the other. And through innocent bystanders, one after the other. Babies and children."

She said nothing.

"You ever seen a bullet hit a baby?" I said. "It doesn't slide right in, like a hypodermic needle. It crushes its way through, like a bludgeon. Crushing and tearing."

She said nothing.

"Never tell a soldier that guns are fun," I said.

The law is clear," she said.

"So join the NRA," I said. "I'm happy right here in the real world.")

More prudent background checks are no threat to Americans' liberty; they wouldn't be a list of weapons to be confiscated if the military or police decide to disarm the country. Now, criminals can stroll into gun shows and exploit the loophole that lets them buy whatever's being hawked, like vegetables at a farmers market or knick-knacks on Spoon River Drives.

Thugs with guns are a menace. But, apart from judicial niceties, so are armed and self-appointed "neighborhood watch" zealots. If they wield weapons, so are fools and drunken citizens and aggressors in domestic-violence situations – maybe more than gangsters.

"Guns in the home are used more often to frighten against intimates than to thwart crime," according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Besides the street and the home, there's the danger on the job.

"When a person is killed at work in a violent manner, that is workplace violence," said Carol Fredrikson of Phoenix' violence prevention advocates Violence Free. "When a bystander is killed in a place of business, that is workplace violence."

The FBI defines workplace violence as "action or words that endanger or harm another employee or results in other employees having a reasonable belief that they are in danger."

A gun-toting customer or supplier or stressed-out co-worker laid off so some executive can get a bonus would persuade most of danger.

"Businesses and organizations are catching on that preventing workplace violence in any form can save a lot of money," said W. Barry Nelson, director of the National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence. "Businesses are finding that the residual effect is quite pervasive--lost work time, lost customers, lost time on the job for employees."

The United States' rate of homicides is higher than other industrial nations with gun-control laws. Regulations on guns have worked elsewhere. Is American exceptionalism so complete that it extends to the quality of our abusers and criminals, too?

No matter where on the spectrum one sits, it's not illogical that society would dramatically reduce domestic violence and violence in general if there were fewer handguns in circulation, concealed or not.

However, laws passed even with the best of intentions won't help, according to a gun owner, Sam Harris, who says he's sympathetic with the goal but unconvinced of laws' effectiveness.

"The problem is that with respect to either factor that makes a gun suitable for mass murder – ease of concealment (a handgun) or range (a rifle) – the most common and least stigmatized weapons are among the most dangerous. I support universal background checks, better mental health screening, a national registry, limited-capacity magazines, a ban on 'assault weapons,' checks against the terrorist watch list, etc. But they will do very little to prevent the next Newtown.

"We could make a gun license as difficult to get as a pilot's license, requiring dozens of hours of training," Harris continued. "But I am under no illusions that such restrictions would make it difficult for the wrong people to acquire guns illegally."

Still, he added, "when the next lunatic arrives at a school armed with legal pistols and a dozen 10-round magazines, we should be prepared to talk about how an assault weapons ban was a distraction from the real issue of gun violence."

Is there no choice between all guns in the hands of authorities and everyone carrying weapons?

Unless something is done, there will surely be more murders and massacres – of unarmed teens in hoodies or innocent bystanders in malls or classrooms – despite changing demographics supporting some reforms.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy said, "We're going to have tragedies. It needs to be controlled in a reasonable fashion."

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.