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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014

Brown: How can gun laws stop madmen?

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I woke up last Saturday morning to the news of yet another mass shooting, this time near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus. I’m ashamed to admit I kind of breathed a sigh of relief when I found out only seven people died this time.

As has happened in the aftermath of previous massacres, there were immediate calls for stricter gun-control laws, most earnestly by Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims. He asked members of Congress to stop calling him to offer condolences and get busy on some legislation.

“I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a s--- that you feel sorry for me,” Martinez said during a televised interview, tears running down his face. “Get to work and do something.”

If only it were that easy.

I thought of these poignant appeals on, of all days, Memorial Day after a spasm of gun violence on Clearwater Beach. I wondered how any additional gun-control legislation would have stopped the multiple shootings that took place that day. While news reports were asking what sparked the violence, I was more interested in how the shooters got the guns they used.

For instance, one of the four men arrested was a felon who was in possession of a handgun, which is against the law and one of the most effective gun-control laws in existence. What new laws could have prevented him from packing heat?

The anti-gun-control lobby can be thickheaded, but it is right about one thing: The criminals we fear most — gang bangers, armed robbers, carjackers, etc. — aren’t deterred by registration requirements, background checks or waiting periods. Neither are spree killers and mass murderers.

Your common street thug doesn’t shop at gun shows or sporting goods stores. His gun supplier deals out of a car trunk, on a street corner or in a private home. Criminals also steal a lot of guns. The California killer could have done the same thing.

Years ago USA Today did a nationwide survey of state prison inmates and found that 34 percent had possessed a handgun at some time in their lives. Thirty-one percent had acquired a gun from family and friends, 28 percent “on the streets,” 27 percent at a retail outlet, 9 percent from theft, and 5 percent from “other sources.” That means a majority of them obtained their weapons by means out of the reach of gun laws.

Although most of the mass murderers of late bought their weapons legally, those who are truly intent on slaughtering a bunch of people would surely get them by similar means. And let’s not forget that three of the victims in the Santa Barbara massacre were stabbed to death, and there’s no way to legislate against that.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt for a minute that Richard Martinez and others calling for stringent gun-control laws really want to end mass shootings and senseless violence like what happened on Clearwater Beach.

But guns are only part of the problem; people on both sides of the issue have acknowledged that mental illness and a nihilistic street culture are huge components as well.

“I understand this is a complicated problem,” said Martinez. “There’s no playbook for this. I just know I have to keep fighting until something changes.”

The problem is indeed complicated, and I’ll admit I don’t have an answer.

But acknowledging that stricter gun-control legislation alone won’t solve it is a start, especially when there are more than 200  million firearms already out there.

Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that read: Gun Control Isn’t About Guns, It’s About Control.

I’m sure the driver was a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, but both sides of the issue should be able to agree that the answer to the problem of gun violence is people learning to control themselves.

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