Do We Need a Law to Make People Think?

Virginia's hypocrisy on gun rights versus abortion rights


“I think people should make informed choices, and I think this bill would accomplish that.” So said Del. Mark Cole the other day about his bill to force anyone seeking a firearm or concealed-carry permit in Virginia to look at autopsy pictures of shooting victims.

Autopsy pictures of gunshot wounds aren’t pretty, especially those of head shots. But maybe looking at a few would make some of the more thoughtless, irresponsible gun buyers think about the potential consequences of their actions.

You disagree? Well, so does Cole, actually. In fact, he has not introduced any such legislation. To the contrary, he has introduced a bill (HB140) that would allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit. This would clear away “a little bit of bureaucratic red tape,” he says. Cole is a gun-rights kind of guy, and good for him.

On the other hand, Cole really has introduced legislation that would add another layer of bureaucratic red tape. This year he is sponsoring HB261, which would require an ultrasound 48 hours before every abortion. Such legislation sits at the top of the wish list for the Family Foundation â€" whose president, Victoria Cobb, contends it is meant to protect the “safety of the mother” because the doctor needs to know “exactly how old and large the unborn child is.”

That might be one reason, but it is not the only reason. The larger, unspoken and obvious purpose is to dissuade women from going through with abortions. While Virginia’s law does not force a woman to look at the ultrasound, that could be the next step. A law passed in Oklahoma did just that. Last year North Carolina passed a law requiring that an ultrasound image be placed next to a pregnant woman and that she be offered the chance to listen to the child’s hearbeat. The ultrasound “puts a face on that baby,” says Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family.

With regard to his ultrasound bill, Cole really did say that “women should make informed choices.” This seems to assume they aren’t doing so nowâ€"as though women flit into abortion clinics on impulse, as they might buy a pair of shoes they see on sale, the silly little things.

But the same reasoning could justify making gun buyers look at autopsy photos. Shouldn’t gun buyers also make “informed choices”â€"especially where “safety” is at issue? Two-thirds of homicides are committed with guns. For the Richmond metro area in 2011, the ratio was closer to fourth-fifths. More than a thousand young Virginians committed suicide between 1996 and 2005, according to the state Health Department, and more than three-fifths used a gun to end their lives. Why not make some of the more thoughtless, irresponsible gun buyers take a long, hard look at such sad consequences?

The answers are obvious. Who says gun buyers are thoughtless and irresponsible? About 60 million Americans own roughly 270 million firearms, and 99.99 percent of them never hurt anyone. Firearms sales have jumped in the past couple of years, yet violent crime has plunged. Gun crimes in bars and restaurants fell after Virginia allowed permit holders to carry concealed guns into them. Firearm violence, while immensely regrettable, does not obviate the right to bear arms any more than media scandals obviate freedom of the press.

Members of the General Assembly seem to have some kind of disassociative disorder. When a woman walks into a gun store, socially conservative legislators like Cole treat her as rational, well informed, and fully capable of making her own decisions without a lot of “bureaucratic red tape.” But if the same woman walks into an abortion clinic, suddenly she’s an addled dimwit who hasn’t given her decision two seconds’ thought, and somebody needs to make her.

It’s probably fair to say many of the more liberal members of the Assembly share the same biases in reverse: Women who get abortions have thought long and hard, they believe, but gun buyers are just walking blends of testosterone and nitroglycerine, ready to explode at the slightest nudge.

This doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the citizens the lawmakers represent. But the picture it paints of the legislators themselves should be downright embarrassing.