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Columnist Pitts aims finger of blame at wrong target

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts yesterday fired off a missive, published in the Seattle Times, blaming guns and what he considers weak gun laws, for the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year that led her ultimately to resign from office recently to focus on her recovery.

His column is already stirring quite a conversation on the popular forum.

In his remarks, Mr. Pitts – exercising the proper degree of righteous indignation – asserts that the will of the people was “overturned by a gun.” Were it only that simple.

Mr. Pitts insists that the will of the people was to send Giffords to Congress, and that their votes were nullified by a near-fatal bullet fired allegedly by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner. Mr. Pitts runs through a list of names, all victims of people who used firearms:

This episode joins a long list of elections overturned and social movements derailed by men with guns, as in the shootings of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Huey Long, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, the Kennedy brothers, George Wallace, George Moscone, Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King Jr. Somehow, people who should never have guns never have trouble getting them.—Leonard Pitts

Just to clarify, John Wilkes Booth was about 130 years ahead of background checks, so there was no law against him being armed, as were most people at the time, with a pistol. The country had, after all, just finished the Civil War.

Ditto, Charles Julius Guiteau, the loony one-time lawyer who shot James Garfield in a Washington, D.C. train station; you didn’t need a concealed carry permit to pack a gun in 1881.

Leon Czolgosz, the nutty anarchist who shot William McKinley with a .32-caliber Iver-Johnson pistol in September 1901, fired that shot decades before people wrongly concluded that gun laws inconveniencing law-abiding citizens would prevent determined killers from carrying out their vicious crimes.

Society likes to believe that people who shoot other people are all nuts. John Hinckley, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Arthur Bremer; perhaps they all had a screw loose. All of their actions led to tighter gun laws, even though these people willfully violated existing laws against murder, or in Hinckley's case, attempted murder. Pitts thinks he has the answers:

· We need meaningful background checks on all gun purchases — no loopholes. A mentally unstable man should not have legal access to a gun, period.

· We need to ban fully automatic weapons from private use. The hunter who needs a gun that fires hundreds of rounds a minute isn't much of a hunter.

· We need to encourage gun-safety classes so that poorly secured firearms stop ending up in the hands of little children.

Item #1: It’s not clear what background check would work if someone’s name doesn’t raise a flag; i.e. if they have never been convicted of a disqualifying crime or if they have no mental health deficiencies on record. We cannot expect gun dealers to be clairvoyant, and if we start going after mental health records, where is the line drawn regarding patient privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality?

Item #2: None of these people used fully-automatic weapons, so this is a Trojan horse argument, and we’re pretty certain Pitts knows that. His inclusion of this stipulation is evidence that Pitts has more on his mind than simply preventing mentally unstable people from getting firearms. He may as well have tossed in “close the gun show loophole,” though none of these people bought their guns at gun shows. But these things are on the gun prohibitionist wish list.

Pitts is right about one thing, you don’t use machine guns for hunting, but the Second Amendment was never really about hunting, anyway. Besides, this column knows many people legally own machine guns, for recreation, for popular shooting matches in several states and for other lawful purposes. None of these people has harmed a soul.

Item #3: This column concurs with Pitts. Gun safety classes should become part of the public school curriculum, with certified firearms instructors providing the instruction. The National Rifle Association is the expert at this (Full disclosure: this writer is a certified instructor and has been for about 30 years), and we believe the NRA would be delighted to assist any school district in the nation that wants to start a pilot program.

Mr. Pitts has this to say, however:

At the very least, we need to have a serious national dialogue about possible solutions.

But we won't. Too many on the political left still seem to harbor a fantasy of getting rid of all guns and refuse to distinguish between responsible gun owners and those criminals or deranged people who have no business with firearms. Too many on the political right still harbor the paranoid delusion that any talk of gun control is code for confiscation by jackbooted thugs riding black helicopters.

Mr. Pitts seems to confuse paranoia with reality. Gun control incrementally led to the gun bans in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, the latter struck down after the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation sued and won before the Supreme Court. Gun control incrementally led to the ban on semiautomatic modern sport-utility rifles in California (first registration, then came the ban).

On the other hand, this column agrees with Mr. Pitts’ assertion that the Political Left is delusional if it believes it will one day rid the landscape of firearms. The right to keep and bear arms is a constitutionally protected fundamental civil right. And remember, the will of the people made it so.

The firearms community has always been willing to have a “serious national dialogue” about possible solutions. It’s just that time and again, the proposed solutions typically start with serious infringements on the rights spelled out in the Second Amendment and in some 40 state constitutions.

If Mr. Pitts is willing to talk, we’re willing to listen, and vice versa. There is a stipulation: The term “ban” is off the table. It’s a non-starter. The term “national reciprocity” must be on the table, since nobody parks their right of self-defense at a state or municipal boundary.

Forget the Far Left and Far Right. Leave the politicians and the lobbying groups out of it for starters. Perhaps Pitts and this column can begin the dialogue. Couple of aging news hacks chatting about this; God save the Republic.

This column was sent to Mr. Pitts prior to its normal circulation.

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