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They Love The Guns They Know More Than The Kid They Don't by Richard Cohen
Published on Thursday, March 2, 2000 in the Washington Post
They Love The Guns They Know More Than The Kid They Don't
by Richard Cohen

By now you will probably have heard a version of the act of God defense in the killing of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland by a classmate of the same age. The child came to his Michigan school with a gun. Allegedly, he had taken it from home. Some adult was clearly at fault, so this is not exactly an act of God, but it has a random, quirky quality to it: an irresponsible adult, a stolen gun, a child who takes it to school and is capable of using it. Some will undoubtedly say it would be wrong for all gun owners to suffer because of a freak incident such as this.

That argument is based on the presumption that an irresponsible adult is the cause of the little girl's death. Punish that adult and you will send a message to all irresponsible gun owners: Lock up your weapons. That would fix the problem. Place the responsibility where it belongs--not on guns but on the rare irresponsible gun owner.

Total nonsense. To understand why, let me introduce the name of Ralph Nader. He is a hero of mine, not on account of his abstemious ways but because he knew many years ago what Detroit obstinately denied: Cars had to be made to withstand accidents because people were going to drive them.

It was fine to urge people to drive safely--not to drink, not to speed and, for God's sake, not to run the other guy off the road. The problem was that people were going to do all those things. It therefore behooved Detroit to make cars so that people could survive an accident. Put in seat belts. Put in air bags. Cushion the dashboard. Build the car to save the life of the person in it, even if he is a jerk. Save him from himself.

The same principle applies to handguns. Given the vast number of them--an estimated 200 million--and the somewhat fewer, but still vast, number of fools who have them, the laws of chance, of averages, of logic and common sense tell you that from time to time tragedies such as the one at Buell Elementary are going to happen. To rely on people to be always responsible is nothing less than irresponsibility itself. In fact, it's just plain nuts.

The remedies are strikingly obvious. The first is child-safety locks on guns. "Why could the child fire the gun?" an incredulous President Clinton asked when he got the news about Kayla Rolland. "If we have the technology today to put in these child-safety locks, why don't we do it?" The answer, as Clinton certainly knows, is that the law doesn't require it. Until it does, lots of people will have handguns that a child can fire.

But here's a better question: Why have all those handguns in the first place? They cannot be what the Framers intended by the Second Amendment. But even in the unlikely event they had concealed weapons in mind, they were nevertheless dealing with 18th-century conditions--a rural America, a frontier society, a place where a militia could be organized to fight the Indians or whoever else threatened.

Our Founding Fathers were wise men. Their foresight has always struck me as a miracle. But they were men of their era. They permitted slavery, an invisible, abominable asterisk that qualified the Declaration of Independence's assertion that "all men are created equal." They withheld the vote from women, and considered Indians to be something less than full human beings. Their thinking does not always guide us. Their prescriptions should not always bind us. It's time for America to get rid of its handguns.

I leave the Second Amendment to constitutional scholars. But the body of Kayla Rolland I consign to us. It joins those of Columbine and Jonesboro--and of course the kids killed by drive-by shootings on the street or by accident at home. The toll is sure to grow--a dead-certain consequence of having too many guns in the hands of too many people. These killings are not acts of God but of people who have made a choice: They love the guns they know more than the kid they don't.


2000 The Washington Post Company

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