Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The urge of lawmakers amid the unthinkable is to entertain the feel-good notion of legislation that could have prevented the awfulness.

The inclination to legislate the worst impulses out of the human condition is understandable in the wake of the horror at Virginia Tech that left 32 dead at the hand of a gun-toting sicko, who then shot himself. But as we know only too well, if only from anecdotal experience, laws have their limits.

To take the principle of gun-control measures to the ultimate level, let’s say America decided in the coming weeks that it no longer could tolerate the heinous acts of a lone gunman, whether in Blacksburg, Va., or in an Amish schoolhouse in Paradise, Pa.

Let’s say we the people, in tandem with our lawmakers, said no to guns, period. Let’s say we even said no to guns employed by sportsmen to kill game.

What would be the outcome? Would America suddenly become a gun-free safe zone?

That certainly would be the intent of the draconian measure. Unfortunately for us, just as one learns one thing in the classroom and discovers something entirely different in the real world, it sometimes works the same with the policies of lawmakers and wonks. Call it the unintended consequences of the well-meaning.

We humans are an ingenious lot. Show us a demand for a particular good, legal or otherwise, and rest assured some of us will endeavor to fill that demand.

Our so-called war on illegal drugs has not exactly been a whopping success. You can go to all parts of our city and find whatever you need to help you get through the day. It is not very difficult. In fact, police sometimes have a fairly good idea of who’s doing what but lack the evidence to bring charges against the peddler.

This cat-and-mouse game is played in urban and rural areas throughout America. And to think it is all built around what is fundamentally illegal.

But there is an insatiable demand for drugs in this country, and so there is always going to be a group of people ready to meet the demand, regardless of government initiatives. This was true in the Prohibition years of 1920 to 1933, an especially lucrative period for those who ran liquor and opened speakeasies.

We also see this in prostitution, the world’s so-called oldest profession. It is against the law to trade sex for money, although it is routinely done in good neighborhoods and bad, from the low-level streetwalker to those who work behind seemingly innocuous storefront signs.

And so a flourishing black market would rise up if guns of all types were summarily banned in this nation.

And its patrons would not be merely the bad guys. Even a percentage of those who usually follow the law might be inclined to flout this law, just as many otherwise law-abiding Americans ignored the ban on alcohol during Prohibition.

This space sometimes jokes that no one ever should die in our city, given all the measures that have been passed because of this or that tragedy.

Someone dies after being struck by an automobile, and before you know it, speed cameras are put in place and fines are dispensed to the oblivious. Yet accidents continue to happen, and pedestrians still get hit by vehicles, because it is impossible to legislate the infinite number of decisions and errors in judgment that occur in daily life.

There are no guarantees in life, although we Americans, perhaps because of our material wealth, abundant resources and longevity, have come to think there should be.

Who knows what lurked in the dark recesses of the Virginia Tech gunman’s twisted mind? Who possibly can grasp it?

Perhaps stricter gun-control laws would have posed an initial impediment before he could carry out his “plan.”

But something tells us that he would have found a way to do what he did, no matter the good intentions of those on Capitol Hill.


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