Tuesday, January 18, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Altes’ bill not needed

Madness begets madness. In the wake of the massacre at Tucson, in which a congresswoman was mortally wounded, six people were murdered and 12 others were wounded, the drive is on in Arizona and other places to arm more people in the public venues. The idea is that if everyone is carrying a weapon, no one is likely to get hurt. They tested the theory in the Wild, Wild West, and it did not work so well.

State Rep. Denny Altes, whose decade-long legislative career has been marked by zany legislation, wants to make it legal in Arkansas for people to openly carry and brandish a gun wherever they go. Altes said he thought it was already legal because the law has permitted people to tote a gun if they were on a journey and, after all, life itself is a journey. You’re on a journey if you’re at the market, at the football stadium, on the golf course or in a bar.

But some people don’t interpret the law that way—the law dated to the days when journeys were by horse and wagon and you found yourself in the wilderness far from law enforcement and neighbors—so Altes is going to make it clear. He introduced HB 1051 to make unimpeded open carry the law. Some people suggested that he wasn’t doing it right, so Altes said he would get together with the National Rifle Association and make sure the bill is on target. If the NRA puts its imprimatur on the bill, and it almost certainly will, the legislature will pass it. Former Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville is the only Arkansas lawmaker known to have stood up to the NRA.

In the South and West, this has been the direction of lawmaking for two decades—toward the proliferation of sidearms and paramilitary weapons and their open carry in more and more venues and with fewer and fewer restrictions. It is done in the name of public safety, but aside from the occasional anecdote, the record shows that it does not make people safer.

It is not a Second Amendment right. The 2008 and 2010 Supreme Court decisions that certified gun ownership as an individual right and not merely an extension of state rights to militias said government could regulate weapons for public safety.

Altes said he was shocked that someone with a gun was not standing around Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords so that he or she could have protected Giffords and the others from Jared Loughner, the demented young man who bought a semiautomatic Glock pistol and took a taxi to the Safeway to kill her and her supporters. Loughner walked up to the woman, said “Hi,” pulled the pistol, shot her point blank in the head and in seconds fired 30 more rounds into the crowd around her.

Of course, there did happen to be a man a few yards away with a gun. He rushed out of the store when he heard the shots and saw the mayhem and was about to open fire on a man brandishing a big pistol. In the split second before firing, he realized that the real gunman was on the ground and the man with the Glock (an aide of Giffords) had wrested it away. He said he was just lucky that he had not increased the mayhem by shooting the aide. If others were around with guns, he would have been mistaken as an accomplice and the bloodshed might have been more epic.

The presence of guns may be a deterrent, but on the other hand it may just as well incite violence. Jared Loughner strikes us as an unhinged fellow who would have gloried in a little gunplay, as if he were back at the OK Corral. His ramblings suggested that he thought he was striking a blow for his country against a government that had corrupted the currency and put women in places of power.

If you carry a weapon in public and people know it, there will be ample invitations to use it, and there are lots of good, sane people who will not use sound judgment.

Let’s hope the Arkansas legislature exercises sound judgment on this dangerous legislation and that, if it doesn’t, Gov. Beebe will.