83 of 100 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Herald

	August 14, 2000 Monday ALL EDITIONS

	Editorial; OP-Ed; Gun control needs a middle ground



	LENGTH: 830 words

	The latest incarnation of the gun-control debate involves a new
	American Medical Association study that finds gun background
	checks do not reduce murder rates. Attorney General Janet Reno has
	already voiced her disagreement with the study, arguing it is
	"common sense" to deny guns to people who shouldn't have them.
	The problem with the gun-control debate is that it is constantly
	being framed in all-or-nothing absolute terms: the NRA vs. Janet
	Reno or the Million Mom March, criminals vs. law-abiding citizens,
	or the Second Amendment vs. government repression.

	Does gun control actually reduce violence? The truth will satisfy
	almost nobody because it lies in the gray area between gun-control
	zealots and gun fanatics. In reality, it depends on what type of
	control measure is being advocated and on what kind of killing is
	being addressed.

	Banning assault weapons. Most of the large-scale massacres have
	been committed with semi-automatic weapons. Get rid of AK-47s and
	you would reduce the massive body counts. But fewer than 1 percent
	of all murder victims - about 200 a year - lose their lives to
	someone who goes on a rampage. By contrast, some 19,000 annually
	are killed by a single bullet in a one-on-one confrontation.
	Eliminating high-power semi-automatics would do almost nothing to
	reduce single-victim murders.

	Waiting periods and background checks.

	Most mass killers do not mind waiting. They have typically done
	so for months before opening fire at a crowded shopping mall or
	school. A waiting period would therefore do almost nothing to
	reduce the possibility of a massacre. However, the Brady Law's
	five-day waiting requirement was effective in providing a
	cooling-off period for enraged lovers and friends who might
	spontaneously be angry enough to kill themselves or others if they
	had a loaded gun in their hands at the time. This effect may not
	always show up in overall statistics. Background checks may have
	an impact on the so-called secondary gun market, reducing the
	number of firearms sold to criminals by unlicenced dealers.

	Liberalizing concealed weapons laws. 
	If almost everybody in town is packing heat, then you'd probably
	be safer doing the same. Certainly, a bank robber might think
	twice about pulling a loaded gun if all the customers and
	employees have one. Remember that the next time you visit Texas,
	where guns are as commonplace as chicken-fried steak. But just the
	opposite may be true in Massachusetts, where relatively few
	citizens carry firearms and the real problem is not murders
	committed by strangers, but by friends and family members who
	impulsively shoot one another. A liberal concealed weapons law in
	the commonwealth might add to our murder rate by providing more of
	our citizens with a lethal means for resolving everyday arguments,
	not only at home but also in bars and on the job, not to mention
	the roads in and out of town during commuting hours.

	Gun buybacks. 
	The Million Mom Marchers were in favor of this measure. Gun
	buyback programs have some symbolic importance, but do little.
	People who turn in their guns can turn around and buy a more
	efficient model.  And individuals who plan to use their firearms
	in the near future are hardly the people who will turn them in for

	Safety locks.

	George W. Bush supports this measure. Anything that reduces the
	access of children to a loaded firearm might help. But it is
	doubtful that substantial numbers of gun owners will use gun
	locks, especially if they want immediate access to a weapon to
	defend against intruders.

	The National Rifle Association is really pushing this approach,
	yet parental and classroom instructions typically do not
	generalize to the playground where youngsters are more persuaded
	by peers. A child who is bent on revenge, belongs to a dangerous
	gang or deals illicit drugs might actually rely on his firearms
	training to instruct him in the most effective manner of killing.
	On the other hand, educating children about the danger of guns
	might reduce at least some of the accidental shootings that result
	in death.

	It is often said that if we make guns difficult to obtain, then
	only the criminals will be able to get them. This argument makes
	the dubious distinction between the good guys without guns and the
	bad guys who use them on the good guys. Actually, most lethal
	injuries are inflicted not by outlaws but by people who
	accidentally shoot one another, leave their guns in places
	accessible to children or lose their cool.

	Almost every American recognizes we need to limit the availability
	of firearms. But rather than continue to debate a false and
	divisive issue, we should now focus on determining which gun
	control measures are effective and which ones are a waste of our
	time. There is much common ground in the gun control argument, but
	only if we get beyond the extremists on both sides.

	Jack Levin is director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and
	Conflict at Northeastern University.

	LOAD-DATE: August 14, 2000


	Copyright 2000 Boston Herald Inc.