- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

Katie Couric asked a legitimate question after the horrific mass murders at Virginia Tech: “Should government impose restrictions on what kind of guns are sold, and to whom? Would these restrictions make us any safer?”

The answer is a resounding yes. Consider the facts.

In 2004, there were 73 firearm murders in all of England and Wales. Seung-hui Cho killed almost half as many 32 plus himself. That was more than half of the 49 gun murders in a year in Cho’s native South Korea.

Japan prohibits handguns. Shotguns are strictly regulated, and rifles can be bought only after owning a shotgun for 10 years. Result: only 35 murders and 47 gun suicides in a nation of 127 million.

By contrast, in the United States, 11,344 were shot and killed, plus 16,750 by suicide. That’s 343 times Japan’s rate. America’s easy availability of guns has made death far more likely. Life expectancy is 82 in Japan vs. 78 here.

Pierre Lemieux, of the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. asked in The Washington Times, “What if some students or professors had been armed at Virginia Tech?” The no-brainer answer is there would be many more killings, especially after binge drinking on Saturday night.

Some say, “The crooks have no trouble buying guns. Why not let the good guys arm?”

This is not an issue of “bad” guys vs. “good” guys. When I was 14, my drunk father threatened my mother with a pistol. I took it away and hid it from him, swearing I would never have a weapon in my home when I grew up. I kept that pledge.

In 1994 a U.S. ban on the sale of assault weapons went into effect. AK-47s, Uzis and weapons designed to kill as many people as possible in a short time could not be purchased here for a decade. Consequently, firearm deaths dropped from an average of 17,600 in 1990-1994 to 12,300 from 1995-2004. Then the law expired in 2004. Those weapons became available again, and bigger gun clips, like the 17-round magazine in the Glock bought by Cho. If he could have bought only a five-round magazine, perhaps he would have killed 10 instead of 32.

Running for re-election, George Bush said he supported renewing the federal assault weapon law and trigger locks. However, he never introduced legislation to do so.

We will always have crazies and felons who get their hands on guns. But the law does not require a background check for mental illness, which it should. According to the FBI, 1.3 million sales of weapons were denied to ex-convicts, thanks to the Brady law requiring background checks. Cho had been treated in a mental health facility, and a court called him a danger to himself and others. Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine is considering an executive order to require giving information about the mental health of potential buyers to gun sellers.

Also, given complaints to campus police by females that he was stalking them, and by two of his English professors who were alarmed by his violent writings, why did Virginia Tech allow him to be a student?

There are 51,500 people living today who would have been murdered without the Brady law and the 10-year ban on assault weapons. No hunter was prevented from buying a gun.

Suicides also dropped from an average of 18,700 before the assault weapon ban and the Brady bill versus 17,250 afterward. That’s 14,500 fewer suicides over a decade.

Virginia limits the number of weapons that can be bought to one a month. No other state does so. That reduced murders in Washington, because there aren’t as many bad guys buying them in volume and reselling them on the streets to kids who shoot to kill. Why allow anyone to purchase 30 at a time? Why not a national limit of one gun a month?

We have weak gun laws in America. But they saved 66,000 lives compared to the annual slaughter in past years. That’s more than the population of hundreds of American towns and cities.

Another loophole that must be closed: No background checks are required if a gun is purchased at a gun show. Why not? Are they any less lethal?

It is high time for Mr. Bush to ignore the National Rifle Association and re-introduce an assault weapon ban, a national limit of one gun a month to anyone, an expansion of the Brady law to include gun show sales and a required check on mental backgrounds of buyers.

Michael J. McManus is a syndicated columnist of “Ethics & Religion” and president and co-chairman of Marriage Savers in Potomac, Md.

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