Harrop: Our gun laws have to reckon with guns and crime

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

The debate over gun restrictions bothers me for two seemingly contradictory reasons.

One is that little has been done to ban mass killing machines outright. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would at least limit access for the mentally ill. What it wouldn’t do is prevent the not-yet-certified insane from buying these guns. The worst mass shooter in U.S. history — the monster who killed 58 and wounded more than 500 in Las Vegas — was just your average loner with low self-esteem.

What the debate often lacks is acknowledgement of the real fears that drive many a reluctant gun owner to become one. That is, the fear of becoming victim of a violent crime.

Let me put my cards on the table. I own a gun. Here’s why:

Years ago, we were staying in my mother-in-law’s house in a leafy New Jersey suburb when my husband urgently told me to go hide in a closet. As it happened, some guy was crawling on a porch overhang and trying to break into a second-floor window. When the would-be burglar realized that there were people inside, he jumped off and ran into the woods.

He clearly thought no one was there and didn’t want a confrontation. But we had to consider the possibility that he could have been crazy, armed or a combination. That prompted my husband, a former Marine, to say, “I think we ought to get a gun.”

And so we got one. My husband has since passed away, but I’ve kept the police revolver. (That said, I would have gotten rid of it had children been living in the house.)

But there is no reason why I or any other homeowner, hunter or hobbyist needs an assault weapon with high-capacity magazines. In our case, one well-placed shot could have taken out the home invader, no matter what weaponry he may have had. The same would have gone for stopping the deranged 18-year-old with an AR-15 who shot up the elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas.

This is obviously not a simple discussion. People with a gun, especially the storied good guys with a gun, need training to confront an armed intruder. The New Jersey police told us that a problem with nice homeowners keeping guns for protection is that when they confront a trespasser, they often just brandish the weapon to scare him away. They don’t really want to kill anyone. After all, it could just be a local teen. An armed criminal is more likely to just shoot.

Guns can pose great danger to family members. Little children may take them for toys. A depressed teen who doesn’t understand the finality of suicide may grab a gun in a moment of desperation. Someone overdosing on drugs could be saved with a call to 911. A bullet in the head generally offers no opportunity for second thoughts.

The Senate bill calls for “hardening” schools against such violence. Ardent gun-control advocates see this as a kind of surrender. They do have a point: Wouldn’t banning weapons of war be the best protection against mass attacks in schoolrooms?

Given the recent parade of horrors, I wouldn’t object to improving security at schools. But if we’re going to harden schools against these massacres, we should also harden churches, Walmarts and wherever people gather.

Would I like to live in a society with little crime and no gun possession, except for hunting and target practice? Of course I would. But the America of 2022 is not such a place. There is a genuine fear in high-crime areas; and the country is already awash in guns. Smart arguments for regulating firearms must recognize two realities.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com .

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