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Political Animal

Shooting Season

By Brian Morton | Posted 2/12/2003

Lock and load, people! The General Assembly is in session, so it's time for the annual firefight over Maryland gun laws!

This year's open season promises to be an exciting one, sports fans, with new players and a wackier scorecard. For the first time in years, Annapolis is home to an anti-gun-control governor. Most of the same players remain on the same teams, however, so the climate remains about the same.

Gun-shop owner and professional gun-law naysayer Sanford Abrams is back, poohpoohing the state's new ballistic fingerprinting law. Citing two California studies, Abrams is calling ballistic imaging programs unreliable. And, for once, Abrams may have a sympathetic ear in the State House, seeing as how last fall, while on the campaign trail, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he would "review" the program "to see what's working."

We here at Animal Control are always happy to hear when pro-gunners are interested in legitimate academic research. After all, when public policy professors Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University and Steven Raphael of University of California, Berkeley, put out a study indicating that Project Exile, Ehrlich's solution to gun violence, was overrated, the National Rifle Association was less than enthused.

When Ludwig and Raphael's study came out, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told The Washington Post, "I would take the words of the men and women who are on the front lines of fighting crime in Richmond [Va.] over the words of a couple stuffed shirts in some ivory tower."

This is not to be construed as an argument against Project Exile, a Virginia program that imposes a minimum prison sentence of five years to prior violent felons convicted of gun crimes; anything that both Charlton Heston and James and Sarah Brady are for can't be all bad. But a hint of the case against Exile could be heard in the words of Ehrlich when he proposed bringing Exile to Maryland. To wit: "They are felons. They carry guns. They are shooting up the streets."

OK, that's fine. But what about those gun-toting people who aren't felons? The kid accused of shooting up the Washington suburbs, John Lee Malvo, wasn't a felon--and he still isn't because he hasn't been convicted yet. Under our system of "innocent until proven guilty," he's only accused of the crime. So technically, he is a "law-abiding citizen."

Let's go back to the gun lobby on that. Cue NRA spokeswoman Kelly Whitley: "Anti-gun proposals aimed at restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens have never had a record of decreasing crimes."

Nationally, there have been a few amusing developments in the debate over gun policy. In a California affidavit, Robert Ricker, former director of what used to be the nation's largest gun-industry trade organization, the American Shooting Sports Council, said that gun manufacturers have "long known" that some of their dealers sold guns to criminals but kept among themselves a bond of silence aimed at silencing dissent.

Ricker was sacked after meeting with the Clinton White House following the Columbine high school shootings. He told The New York Times last week that someone needed to speak up about the bad dealers because "we've got a bunch of right-wing wackos at the NRA controlling everything."

In Maryland, we wouldn't know anything about that. Except maybe when people like Gus Alzona of the hyperbolically named "Tyranny Response Team" passed out flyers in Annapolis last year featuring the heads of the Montgomery County delegation pasted onto the bodies of Nazi storm troopers and called it "humor."

Alzona ran for state comptroller in last fall's Republican primary election and, despite losing, improbably managed to get 75,000 people to vote for him. This means little, except perhaps for proving that P.T. Barnum's dictum about a fool being born every minute has dated little over the years.

The other gun news of note is that the gun lobby's favorite researcher, John Lott, author of the 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime, has been accused of fabricating a study to back up his assertion that merely brandishing a gun, rather than firing it, will stave off an attack. This comes on top of his constant assertion that allowing more people to carry concealed weapons will drive the crime rate down.

Now, we won't go into the volumes of research showing what a horselaugh Lott's studies are--Matt Bai of Newsweek probably said it best in March 2001 when he wrote that Lott "has been shown the door at some of the nation's finest schools." On top of that, Lott was letting his 13-year-old son write a five-star review of his book for Amazon.com, under the name "Mary Rosh." Lott then used the Rosh nom de guerre to sing his own praises on the Internet. In one posting, Rosh/Lott claimed the gun researcher was "the best professor I ever had."

Yes, it's gun season in Annapolis again. If it weren't for the fact that, in the end, there are real lives at stake here, threatened by a product that lets nonfelons play God, it might even be amusing for a minute or two.

Put on your vests and let the laughs begin.

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Police State (7/7/2010)

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