Thursday, July 20, 2000

It's open season on gun laws

So, how worried should we be for the next three weeks? Should we put the wagons in a circle? Invest in a Kevlar vest to wear to work? Should we practice our Mae West imitation? “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

        How serious is the latest challenge to gun laws?

        Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, never a model of restraint, says Judge Robert Ruehlman's decision Tuesday to suspend Ohio's concealed weapons law in Hamilton County will invite a bloodbath.

        Or incendiary words to that effect.

A bloody verdict?
        “This misdirected ruling opens the barn door for every violent criminal to carry a weapon and get away scot free,” he told The Enquirer's Dan Horn. “If any of our officers or innocent citizens are killed because Judge Ruehlman allowed violent criminals to carry guns, he's going to have blood on his hands.”

        Of course, Judge Ruehlman did nothing of the kind. Violent criminals are not allowed to carry guns under any circumstances. The judge was ruling on a case involving Ohio's concealed carry law and will hear more arguments Aug. 11.

        Meanwhile, police officers aren't allowed to enforce the law, which has been on the books for 80 years. Just being old doesn't necessarily mean good. (For instance, Fidel Castro will turn 74 next month.)

        And this law is just bad. Confusing. Probably unconstitutional.

        In May, another judge threw out a felony charge against a pizza deliveryman accused of carrying a handgun. Ohio law forbids concealed weapons with exceptions including a business that requires you to go into potentially dangerous areas or carry a lot of money.

        The only way to find out if you qualify is to get arrested and go to court. In other words, you have to prove you're innocent instead of being presumed so. “An honest person in a difficult or dangerous job must subject himself to trial like a criminal,” said Judge Thomas Crush, adding that state law should allow law-abiding citizens to get permits to carry concealed weapons.

No guarantee
        Permits. I like the sound of this, as it sounds a little bit like gun control. Or maybe we could call it gun safety and throw in a ban on assault rifles, increase the age for handgun possession from 18 to 21, require child-safety locks and background checks at gun shows and hold parents accountable for allowing guns to get into the hands of their children.

        But let the good guys keep their guns.

        Digging in our heels and demanding that nobody should have guns is just as dopey as insisting that everybody should have them.

        Guns are a mass-produced commodity. We regulate commerce all the time for the greater good of all Americans. Cars. Baby beds. Bottled water. The Second Amendment does not guarantee that guns be unlicensed. Or unregulated.

        Among the things the National Rifle Association is fond of saying is that there are already 20,000 laws on the books. As if to say enough is enough. Well, maybe a lot of those laws are just as bad as the concealed carry law in Ohio.

        Recent polls show people generally favor more restrictions on guns. Despite the existence of more than 200 million guns in this country and the legions of gun lobbyists clogging the halls of our legislative buildings, we are not a nation of guns. We are a nation of laws.

        This is a chance to prove it.


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