The Folly of Unilateral Disarmament

Jacob Sullum
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Posted: Nov 11, 2009 12:01 AM
The Folly of Unilateral Disarmament

When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan started shooting up the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Pfc. Marquest Smith dove under a desk. The Associated Press reports that "he lay low for several minutes, waiting for the shooter to run out of ammunition and wishing he, too, had a gun."

Neither Smith nor the other victims of Hasan's assault had guns because soldiers on military bases within the United States generally are not allowed to carry them. Last week's shootings, which killed 13 people and wounded more than 30, demonstrated once again the folly of "gun-free zones," which attract and assist people bent on mass murder instead of deterring them.

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Judging from the comments of those who support this policy of victim disarmament, Smith's desire for a gun was irrational. According to Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, "This latest tragedy, at a heavily fortified Army base, ought to convince more Americans to reject the argument that the solution to gun violence is to arm more people with more guns in more places."

Note how the reference to "a heavily fortified Army base" obscures the crucial point that the people attacked by Hasan were unarmed as a matter of policy. Also note the breathtaking inanity of Helmke's assurance that "more guns" are not "the solution to gun violence." In this case, they assuredly were.

The first people with guns to confront Hasan, two local police officers, were the ones who put a stop to his rampage. And while Sgt. Kim Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd acted heroically, they did not arrive on the scene until a crucial 10 minutes or so had elapsed and Hasan had fired more than 100 rounds.

If someone else at the processing center had a gun when Hasan started shooting, it seems likely that fewer people would have been killed or injured. Furthermore, the knowledge that some of his victims would be armed might have led him to choose a different, softer target in order to maximize the impact of his attack.

There would have been plenty of targets to choose from: any of the locations in Texas, including public schools, universities and shopping malls, that advertise their prohibition of gun possession. The problem is that crazed killers tend not to follow such rules.

That problem was vividly illustrated by the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, which occurred in Killeen, Texas, a stone's throw from Fort Hood. In 1991, George Jo Hennard drove his pickup truck through the window of a Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, jumped out and began firing two pistols at the defenseless customers and employees inside, killing 23 of them.

One customer, Suzanna Hupp, saw Hennard gun down her parents. Hupp later testified that she had brought a handgun with her that day but, to her bitter regret, left it in her car, as required by state law. The massacre led the Texas legislature to approve a "shall issue" law that allows any resident who meets certain objective criteria to obtain a concealed carry permit.

But people with such permits are still barred from bringing their weapons into areas designated as gun-free zones. And when a killer fires on people he knows will be unarmed, it matters little whether he has 20-round or 10-round magazines, a detail emphasized in press coverage of the Fort Hood massacre. The second or two it takes to switch magazines is a minor nuisance when the people you are shooting at cannot shoot back.

Even less relevant is the allegation that Hasan used illegal armor-piercing ammunition. The Brady Campaign bizarrely chose to highlight that claim even though there was no indication that any of Hasan's victims were wearing bulletproof vests, let alone that his bullets penetrated them. Perhaps the group hoped that such puzzling illogic would distract people from the plain fact that having a gun is better than not having one when you are confronted by a homicidal maniac.