Once again, Ms. Huffington spews out her knee-jerk rhetoric on gun control and the media dutifully laps it up ("Expiration Date Coming," 7/8/04), seemingly unknowing or uncaring that the majority of what she espouses is factually incorrect. I find it odd that a wealthy, pampered socialite, with no law enforcement experience or formal training, sets herself up as an expert in this field -- especially considering she wouldn't know a musket from a musk ox.
Having just retired as a police officer in Dade County, Fla. (23 years), I have been intimately familiar with street crime and illegal use of weapons. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I do have a nodding familiarity with how things actually work.
First of all, let's be very clear on one issue: The 10-year-old ban on assault weapons did absolutely nothing to deter crimes committed with this class of firearm. Ms. Huffington conveniently ignores the fact that less than one-tenth of one percent of firearms offenses have been with so-called assault weapons. Those figures have remained essentially unchanged both before and after the ban. Why? Simple. Using this type of firearm is very awkward. The majority of armed criminals much prefer a small handgun, or a knife, to commit their crimes.
It should also be noted that the ban had no effect on the availability of these guns. Hundreds of thousands of these weapons had already been distributed and sold in the U.S. prior to the ban. These guns are still being circulated 10 years later, and despite Ms. Huffington's dire predictions of American streets awash in blood, that hasn't happened. The gun control advocates proffered the same ideas when Florida instituted its concealed carry law a number of years ago. There were grim predictions of gun battles in the streets and bodies overflowing at the M.E.'s office. What actually happened was that street crime dropped about 30 percent as word circulated among the criminal underground that their marks might now be going armed.
I would also like to ask Ms. Huffington why she didn't protest Bill Clinton allowing the Chinese Communist government to import hundreds of thousands of AK-47's into the country at the same time he was engineering a ban on these same weapons? In her recent commentary, she complains bitterly about the Republicans supposedly bowing to the demands of the NRA while blithely ignoring what the Democrats did when they were in power.
Ms. Huffington quotes "recent polls" showing a majority of Americans supporting the ban but doesn't name the polls or who paid to conduct them. I've seen polls proclaiming just the opposite. As for police organizations, it depends on who's talking. The police chief, or union leader, is a political animal and will parrot the party line if he knows what's good for him. The rank and file police officers, the ones actually out on the street, don't necessarily toe the line. By far, the majority of these officers know that such bans are essentially worthless.
What I find particularly funny is Ms. Huffington wailing that President Bush and the Congress keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. As if they could. The truth of the matter is that criminals will obtain whatever weapons they want and little can be done to stop them. This country is too big and it's impossible to search every person, bag or container coming in. Further, let's assume that, somehow, someone could shut down all the domestic gun manufacturers, vacuum up every gun in America and whisk them away. You think Prohibition was bad? Wait until you see what happens next. Foreign gun makers would immediately begin to flood our shores with inconceivable amounts of ordnance. Unlike today, with established business regulations and procedures, these new weapons will not have serial numbers and would be impossible to trace if recovered from crime scenes.
If a terrorist wants to obtain military grade weaponry, he is not going to piddle around with a run of the mill AK obtained from one of the locals. I've been to intelligence briefings documenting trade routes and procedures used by our enemies to smuggle in high power munitions obtained from antagonistic governments. As 9/11 showed, those who hate us are very patient and they won't blow their cover by skulking around at gun shows trying to buy weapons that could possibly be traced back to them. Not when they can sneak in the items that they really want.
I don't fear the expiration of the assault weapons ban. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of these guns are owned by collectors and weekend shooters who simply enjoy going to the range. Ms. Huffington acts as if Joe Average Citizen will suddenly go berserk and begin shooting down people in the street as soon as the ban expires. Despite her sky-is-falling protestations, I don't think that will be the case.
Michael Woodard lives in Spokane.
Publication date: 07/22/04