Snipers, Terror, and Gun Control
The recent sniper killings around the Washington DC area thankfully appear to have ended with the arrest of two individuals believed responsible. The sense of fear in the nation's capital was palpable throughout October, bringing back memories of the uneasy days following the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York City.
The wanton and unpredictable nature of the sniper shootings has reinforced an uncomfortable feeling that many Americans first experienced the morning of September 11th: namely, that the government cannot protect you. No matter how many police or federal agents we put on the streets, a determined individual or group can still cause great harm.
For many this is a sobering thought, because we have come to view the state as our protector and the solution to every problem. We should remember, however, that we hardly would want to live in a rigid totalitarian society completely free of danger. This nation was founded on principles of self-reliance, but we've allowed ourselves to become far too dependent on government. Perhaps the only good that can come out of these senseless and tragic killings is an emerging understanding that we as individuals are responsible for our safety and the safety of our families.
As for the alleged sniper himself, we can expect two things from the media. First, we'll hear a lot of details and nonsense about his rifle and how he obtained it. This scrutiny serves to instill a misguided sense of fear and awe toward a simple .223 rifle, making it seem like a highly dangerous instrument that should never be in the hands of the general public. Second, we'll hear his defense attorneys feed the media a thousand excuses for his actions, ranging from his childhood to his failed marriage to his Army training. Most people see through this, however. The killer alone is responsible for his murderous actions.
Despite all the talk about rifles, the undeniable truth is that armed citizens are safer than disarmed citizens. We can't know, of course, that armed citizens would have prevented any of the shootings or brought the sniper to justice more quickly. Yet it's hard to imagine the sniper choosing Texas or another well-armed southern state to commit his crimes. The bottom line is that criminals seek defenseless, unarmed victims. Any criminal operating in the suburbs of Washington DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia — all bastions of anti-gun sentiment — can reasonably assume that his victims will not shoot back.
For most Americans, guns are not a political issue. People buy and own guns to protect their families, not to commit crimes. The truth is that even millions of Americans who support and vote for gun control own guns themselves, because deep down they share the basic human need to feel secure in their homes. Since September 11th, that sense of security has been shaken, resulting in a big increase in gun sales across the country. Most supporters of gun rights take no pleasure in this fact, nor do they trumpet it as a political victory over gun control forces. The time has come to stop politicizing gun ownership, and start promoting responsible use of firearms to make America a safer place. Guns are here to stay; the question is whether only criminals will have them.
October 29, 2002
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.