A 10-YEAR-OLD boy was sentenced to probation and counseling Thursday for putting soap in his teacher's drinking water, months after the teacher filed charges that the boy attempted to murder him with the soap -- death by Dial. Thursday also saw Washington, D.C., add itself to a list of cities that are suing the gun industry for expenses resulting from the use of illegally distributed firearms. Though neither case warrants a moment in court, at least the sudsy-intestined teacher didn't sue the janitor who filled the soap dispenser.
The district is suing gun manufacturers despite the fact that it has banned gun possession since 1976. Of all cities with a population greater than 250,000, D.C. also has the highest murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate at 56.9 per 100,000 (www.albany.edu/sourcebook/1995/pdf/t3122.pdf). Clearly, all these deaths didn't occur as a result of a well-placed shiv. In other words, the district has a gun problem and, considering its urban nature, those guns aren't being brought into the city so Clinton and Gore can hunt deer behind the White House.
It's simple logic like this that originally brought about D.C.'s ban on firearms. It's the poor execution of simple logic that has led Mayor Tony Williams and his staff to sue gun manufacturers. The problem, according to Williams, is that guns are being brought into D.C. from Maryland and Virginia where guns can be legally purchased ("District Suing The Gun Industry," Jan. 20, The Washington Post). If that's really the root of the problem, Williams should be suing Maryland and Virginia -- or at least making a greater effort to cooperate with them on gun control efforts. Even better, Williams should use his geographical and political position to push for greater federal gun legislation.
President Clinton is considering bringing a federal lawsuit against gun manufacturers similar to that brought by D.C. and other cities ("Washington, D.C., targets makers of guns," Jan. 21, The Washington Times). Such a suit may amount to little more than political grandstanding, but bringing the issue to the national stage at least ensures a national discussion. With nearly 200 million firearms floating around the United States, it is an issue that clearly warrants discussion. Unfortunately, talking seems to be all that federal politicians are doing to combat the prevalence of guns.
The Brady bill of 1994 is the last major piece of legislation that Congress has passed regarding gun control. As of December 1998, the heralded five-day waiting period -- which distinguished the Brady bill -- was rescinded. A computer system that almost instantly identifies former felons replaced the waiting period without providing a sufficient safeguard against "crimes of passion" -- a safeguard that was afforded by the waiting period. This may have pleased some with short fuses and empty gun cabinets, but it left a gaping hole in efforts to curb criminal gun use. This hole will not be filled, however, by suing gun manufacturers.
Even if victorious lawsuits against gun manufacturers would help solve the gun problem, the likelihood of these victories taking place is slim at best. Similar lawsuits have been thrown out of courts in Miami, Bridgeport, Connecticut and Cincinnati. In two of the cases, the suits were thrown out because judges determined that only those who sustain direct injuries from guns may sue the manufacturers. Unless someone manages to shoot the entire city with an illegally obtained gun, this lawsuit will not hold water.
Considering these judicial precedents, other options must be sought out to get guns off the streets. One of these would be to nationalize the gun industry and take the responsibility of distributing guns out of the hands of those whose sole preoccupation is with the bottom line. As long as there are private dollars to be earned from the sale of guns, private manufacturers will continue to market them -- even if this creates what the district government calls "a public nuisance."
Another obvious option, particularly for D.C., is increased police presence. Since gun possession is banned in D.C., if an officer sees a weapon that's not attached to his belt, he has every right to take the weapon off the street and arrest its owner. Moreover, if the officer is there to begin with, there's considerably less chance he'll see any guns.
As for Williams, D.C. is fortunate to have a mayor that seeks to stem a problem at its roots. Unfortunately, he's not that good at identifying the roots.
(Chris DelGrosso's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.)