The Sniper and the Keystone Cops: Another Case of Why Gun Control is Evil

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The Beltway Snipers’ murder spree ended the other night at a rest stop that I frequent on my way home after teaching an MBA economics class in Frederick, Maryland. It is a good thing the killers were asleep and unaware that others at the stop had called the police, because had they escaped, most likely they would still be at large.

Journalists who populate the Beltway area are second in their love for statism only to the North Korean propagandists, and soon after John Muhammad and his 17-year-old pal were in custody, the area press was pouring in its congratulations to the Maryland police and the FBI, who supposedly "solved" this case. In fact, the opposite is true. Law enforcement at all levels, and in all the jurisdictions where the killings occurred, were an example of sheer incompetence. Furthermore, they once again gave the lie to the words of James Brady, one of the nation’s premier gun control advocates, who declared, "People don’t need guns to protect themselves. That’s what the police are for."

If anything, the bumbling of the police in this whole sorry episode proves that individuals must be able to protect themselves — precisely because the police will not and cannot protect us. Let us begin with the killings and how this puzzle was solved.

When the shootings first began to happen about a month ago, the police immediately began to rely upon "profilers" who were certain that the killings were the work of the "lone nut" Angry White Male. Thus, we were looking for the weird Caucasian with a fascination for guns and violence — and who drove a white panel truck while the real killers were unmolested by the police. Even when reality continued to interrupt the investigation, the government insisted upon following the leftist imaginary description of the shooter.

After some of the killings near Interstate 95, police shut down all highway traffic and began doing the road version of airport security: bothering everyone but those who are the perpetrators. White vans — which were mistakenly identified as the vehicle used by the shooters — were stopped and searched. In Richmond, Virginia, police grabbed a white van with two Hispanic men and put out the word that they might have caught the killers. All the while, the real criminals were sitting in their blue Chevrolet Caprice (which had been modified in order to enable them to shoot in secret), watching the whole fiasco.

Furthermore, it turns out that the killers and their car (which also served as their home), were stopped by police several times during the whole shooting spree, but never once suspected of being the shooters until they gave it all away themselves. In fact, this episode would never have solved had Muhammad not given the police everything they needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Furthermore, Muhammad had called in tips on a number of occasions, only to be rebuffed by police who were still fixated on the AWM.

If we are to be honest, we must give credit to the arrests not to the police, but to Muhammad himself, who either wanted to be caught or believed that the police were so inept that they would not have arrested the killers even had they turned in themselves. Even here, the incompetence of the police was stunning, as they still seemed to be disbelieving, refusing the follow the leads Muhammad was giving them, since the AWM theory was guiding their investigation almost to the very end.

But what does this have to do with gun control? First, the police proved that they could not protect anyone from Muhammad, who killed people at will. The police refused to consider anyone but the leftist media favorite, the AWM, and botched chance after chance to nab the murderers. This disproves Brady’s declaration that the police will always protect us.

Second, Maryland is a "progressive" state, which means it has a gaggle of gun control laws. In fact, most Marylanders — or at least those of the Beltway variety — are such True Believers in gun control laws that when Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Erlich suggested during a recent debate with his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, that perhaps we should consider repealing some gun control laws that had proven ineffective or harmful, the anguished outcry was comical but predictable. To large numbers of Maryland voters and politicians, gun control laws always work, even when they don’t.

The anti-gun attitudes among politicians in this state are such that if a private citizen were to use a gun to stop a crime (if police were nowhere in the area), it is almost certain that the gun-toting civilian would be prosecuted severely. The only private citizens who were armed in the I-70 rest stop where Muhammad and his 17-year-old partner were nabbed were the killers themselves. Had someone held the pair at gunpoint while waiting for the police, that person would have been arrested, prosecuted, and would have faced many years in prison. To leftist Marylanders, it is more important that a killer be able to go on and on in a shooting spree than a private citizen ever use (horrors!) a gun to stop him.

So, what did we learn from this latest episode? First, we learned that the experts are no better than anyone else at solving crimes and would not have solved this one had Muhammad not given them everything they needed to know. Second, we found once again that the police can do almost nothing to protect individuals from crime should someone decide to do harm to others. Third, we see there is almost no limit to the self-congratulations government will give itself when it "solves" something, even when it should receive absolutely no credit for doing so.

I am glad the Beltway shooters are in custody, although I shudder to think they will be tried in Maryland’s left-wing court system where juries are liable to conclude anything but the truth. Furthermore, I am glad that people feel "safe" once again to go out in public in the Washington, D.C., area, and no doubt the store and restaurant owners are even happier. However, I also realize that because we have such a left-wing apparatus of governance in the state where I live, there is little doubt that if someone else wishes to take up where Muhammad left off, he will almost certainly have carte blanche as he shoots disarmed citizens at will. Government in the name of "protecting" people leaves them defenseless against determined killers. Unfortunately, at least in this state, as well in much of this country, those defenseless people never seem to learn the lesson that Muhammad and his friend have taught us.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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