October 28, 2002

CATHY YOUNG WRITES about the D.C. sniper and gun control in the Boston Globe:

Since 1996, Australia has implemented some of the world's toughest gun laws and a sweeping buyback program. Yet just this month, it has witnessed two shocking incidents. On Oct. 14, South Australia's mental health chief, Margaret Tobin, was shot dead by an assailant outside her office in Adelaide. A few days later, a gunman opened fire in a classroom at Monash University in Melbourne, killing two.

Editorials in the Australian press responded by calling for even more gun restrictions. Yet they offered little evidence that such measures would have prevented these tragedies, and conceded that criminals were finding ways to circumvent the laws such as smuggling in gun parts from Southeast Asia and assembling them into lethal weapons.

The overall homicide rate in Australia has declined by 10 percent since 1996. But any link between this trend and the antigun policies is hardly clear: In the same period, the United States has achieved an even greater drop in the murder rate. And while the percentage of armed robberies committed with firearms in Australia has decreased markedly, armed robberies overall are up.

Let's not forget, too, that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can actually stop those who prey on the innocent. A largely ignored incident in Pittsburgh, which happened at the same time as the sniper shootings, provides a convincing demonstration. A man who committed a half-dozen sexual assaults in the city's East End, eluding police and terrorizing women - not as lethally as the sniper, perhaps, but seriously enough - was captured when his intended seventh victim shot and wounded him with the gun she was licensed to carry.

To me the big news is that something like this is appearing in The Globe. And here's a point that Globe readers might actually appreciate:

Yet the National Rifle Association opposes a national gun registry, fearing a slippery slope toward confiscation of firearms. An extreme position? Maybe. But the extremism of gun-rights supporters is akin to the extremism of abortion-rights proponents who oppose even minimal abortion restrictions. In both cases, they know that there are powerful activist groups that really do see modest restrictions as a first step toward a total ban.

And in both cases, they're right.