Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Virginia Tech Families Urge Gun Control

I feel for the families of the Virginia Tech shooting victims, I truly do. A member of my extended Fraternity family was killed in the attack. But a recent protest for more gun control is not the proper way to go, and to take the advice of a group of people who are grieving as the only impetus for change is not smart policymaking.

Do the families have a right to express their grief, their anguish and their desire for change? Absolutely, but their grief may be clouding their judgment. The lack of gun control laws did not lead to their family member's death. Virginia Tech, like most college campuses in America was a "gun free zone." But the shooter, not only apparently mentally deranged, was also violating state and local laws, but also campus rules and regulations had weapons. The fact is that there is more gun control on college campuses than in Blacksburg, Virginia in general. The fact is that more gun control, if it were possible on Virginia Tech's campus, would not have changed the facts of their family member's death.

Obstensibly, the protest was to close the so-called "gun show loophole" and to ban criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. But like almost all legislation and policymaking, you have to make sure what you are banning is, first, constitutionally permitted and second, not too broad. Sure banning criminals from having weapons sounds like a good thing, but a criminal, by definition has already broken a law, a ban on their possession of a gun is not likely to make them stop being a criminal.

The ban on the mentally ill is troubling on a number of levels. If a person has been certified by a court to be a danger to themselves or others, a ban on weapons purchases for a fixed period of time is appropriate. But we must be careful of over reaction. Just because a person has been treated for a mental illness does not, in and of itself, indicate that they are unfit to own a weapon. We have to be careful not to trammel on the rights of individuals just because they seek mental help.

The State of Maryland issued a gun purchase regulation recently that that would require a gun purchaser to permit their mental health records to be examined by state police. But like I said then, the burden must be on the state to prove that people are unfit to own weapons, not on the gun purchaser to prove that they are fit to own weapons. Any law that shifts the burden of proving fitness, either mental or otherwise, to own weapons to the individual is a fundamental burden on an individual right and must be viewed with a very, very healthy dose of skepticism.

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