April 25-May 1, 2007

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The Byrne Report

No Right to Bear Arms

By Peter Byrne

In the aftermath of murderous news from Blacksburg, Va., the possibility of banning handguns has once again become a topic of heated public discussion. After all, 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-hui purchased his weapons of mass destruction as easily as buying packs of chewing gum. But given the clout of the National Rifle Association, rational cries for increasing domestic control of arms proliferation will continue to go unheard by federal and state legislators as they pocket campaign contributions from the gun-and-bullet crowd.

Drawing exactly the wrong lesson from Blacksburg, writer David Kopel of the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that if Virginia Tech had allowed its 26,000 students to carry concealed handguns on campus, 32 people would be alive today. Just think: millions of style-crazed teenagers carrying loaded handguns into the classroom. Goodbye, Mr. Chips. In the real world, the burning question for nonviolently-inclined residents of the North Bay is, what can we do at the local level to stop death by gun? It is axiomatic that when guns are not legally available, homicides and suicides decrease dramatically.

Gun-huggers are fond of hiding behind what they claim is their constitutional right to bear arms. For a century, the United States Supreme Court has shot down argument after argument based on that mythology. According to all reputable legal scholars, the Second Amendment protects only the right of a "well-organized militia" to bear arms; it does not extend to individuals. This from the website of the Legal Community Against Violence: "Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger once characterized the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment as 'one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.'"

Gun lovers are wimps and losers. Do they really think that in some scarily near future when President Jeb Bush orders United States Northern Command troops into Sonoma County to arrest libertarian secessionists they will effectively wage armed struggle against legions of soldiers supported by fighter jets and cruise missiles and tear gas? Not likely! Most of the "Do Not Tread on Me" Second Amendment freaks will be hiding under their chicken coops pissing on their pistols or trying to join the storm troopers. The others will be hunted like rabbits.

Last year, the Superior Court, responding to an NRA lawsuit, struck down a San Francisco law that banned firearms, period. Because state law regulates guns, said the court, localities cannot ban them; only the State Legislature or a statewide ballot initiative can regulate firearms. In truth, California has some of the best gun-control laws in the country, but we still have far to go to wipe out the sanctification of guns by the news-entertainment culture and the legal system.

The NRA chants about protecting our homes, but for every homeowner who pops a burglar, dozens of teenagers shoot themselves with their parents' bedside weapon. I would take away those guns. And I would take away the guns wielded by police, too. There is no good reason why trained law enforcers cannot do their job with nonlethal weapons, including chemical and rubber projectiles and stun machines.

The Legal Community Against Violence points out that many of California's gun-control laws started out as local ordinances that "trickled up" to the state legislature. In an interview last week, one of the national group's San Francisco-based attorneys, Sam Hoover, said that Sonoma County already prohibits the possession of firearms and ammunition on all county-owned property, and prohibits firearm dealers from operating in residential areas. But the county can pass laws to prohibit gun dealers from operating near schools, parks and other "sensitive" areas, and require dealers to obtain liability insurance (and thereby be held accountable for misdealing). Local governments are free to prohibit minors from entering a dealer's store and to mandate dealer inventory inspections.

Without falling afoul of state or federal laws, North Bay counties and cities can limit handgun sales to one per person every six months. The voters or the governing bodies of these jurisdictions can require ammunition sellers to be licensed and to maintain ammunition purchaser records. They can require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms. They can prohibit the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines and 50-caliber cartridges. They can require firearms to be stored safely in the home.

And in light of the "spate" of law-enforcement slayings in the North Bay during recent weeks, the public has another important gun-control option: conditioning the funding of law-enforcement agencies upon the prohibition of peace officers carrying lethal weapons and requiring them to carry only nonlethal weapons. Attorney Hoover says that California law will support such a decision if it is made by ballot initiative or by a local government body.

Let's do it.

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