While researching my column for this week (about Barack Obama's position on gun control), I came across this lame response from Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University (NIU):
Do we give up and say we can't do anything about these tragedies? Or do we take common-sense steps today to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons?…
Over the years, the Brady Campaign has proposed numerous common-sense measures to reduce and prevent gun violence. It may be difficult to stop "suicide shooters" like the Northern Illinois University killer, but there are steps we can take as a nation.
We can require background checks for every gun transaction in America. Current Federal law requires that only Federally licensed gun dealers do a computer check on the criminal backgrounds of purchasers who buy guns from them. Yet there is no such restriction on unlicensed sellers who sell guns at gun shows, from the trunk of their cars or at their kitchen tables. If we want to make it harder to dangerous people to get dangerous weapons, we must close this loophole, and require that all gun buyers undergo a background check.
We can limit bulk purchases of handguns to cut down on the illegal gun trade. Gun buyers currently have no Federal limits on the number of guns they can buy at one time. Gun traffickers take advantage of the unlimited number of guns they can purchase at a time in order to sell guns to criminals and gangs….
We can also ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. One thing the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shooters had in common was that they both used high capacity ammunition magazines that would have been prohibited under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004.
The NIU murderer, Steven Kazmierczak, legally purchased the shotgun and three handguns he used, which did not qualify as "assault weapons," from a licensed dealer on three trips over seven months, and there does not seem to have been anything about his background that disqualified him from owning firearms. So the only possibly relevant suggestion offered by Helmke is to reimpose a 10-round federal limit on the size of magazines. But considering that Kazmierczak fired the shotgun six times and the handguns 48 times; that it takes just a few seconds to switch magazines; and that police arrived about six minutes after the attack started, by which time Kazmierczak already had killed himself, it is doubtful that the death toll was any higher than it would have been had he been carrying 10-round magazines. In fact, I cannot recall reading an account of a mass murder in the U.S. where "high capacity" magazines made a demonstrable difference.
The rest of Helmke's "common-sense steps" could not possibly have stopped this attack. So why trot them out and pretend otherwise? Because that's what gun controllers routinely do, as I noted in a 1994 article for reason. Their lobbying, publicity, and fundraising imperatives prevent them from admitting the truth: With something like 200 million guns in circulation and no reliable way of predicting which quiet graduate student will go on a rampage one day, this sort of thing is bound to happen occasionally. No policy short of wholesale firearm confiscation can prevent such incidents, although (as I've argued) allowing law-abiding people to carry concealed weapons in heretofore "gun-free zones" might help reduce the number of injuries and deaths after an attack starts.