On 10 June 2009, 88 year old white supremacist and convicted felon James W. von Brunn was arrested for the murder of Stephen Tyrone Johns, a black security guard working at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC at the time. Two of Johns’ fellow security guards returned fire, wounding von Brunn. The suspect allegedly (it’s “alleged” because he hasn’t been convicted of this crime yet) walked into the museum and immediately shot Johns with a .22 rifle.
Predictably, Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, DC chose to lay the blame for this event at the feet of the evils of inanimate objects. He said “In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way.”
DC City Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said this incident underscores the need for strict gun laws:
It’s all the more reason why, though, District of Columbia gun legislation should be not used as a bargaining chip by those in Congress who would use our city for political gain while compromising safety, particularly when it involves our right to a vote.
The shooter violated the following laws, at least:
It is illegal to carry a firearm into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
It is illegal to carry a loaded rifle in public in Washington, DC.
It is illegal to fire a loaded rifle in public in Washington, DC.
It is illegal to murder someone in Washington, DC.
It is illegal for a convicted felon to carry a firearm of any kind in Washington, DC.
It seems to me that the problem here is not a need for stricter gun control, or stricter laws at all, and certainly not more laws. Everything relevant has already been covered by the law. The problem is not legality, but enforcement, in this case; some laws are unenforceable, and others are simply not effectively enforced. Some don’t let that stop them from using the still-warm body of security guard Stephen Johns as a soapbox, though.
Perhaps Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray should consider focusing on ensuring convicted felons don’t break the laws against carrying firearms and murdering security guards before resorting to fretting over the “need” for gun control laws that are only effective against those who voluntarily obey them — in short, law-abiding citizens who are among the least likely people to commit murder with any weapon at all.
As Professor Nicholas J. Johnson once said:
The notorious AK-47 can be assembled from a kit of roughly-machined parts using only hand tools. Gun prohibition then is not the same as banning DDT or leaded gasoline. It is more like banning fire.
I’m sure these politicians have little interest in actually preventing such acts in the future, aside from the ability to point at declining crime rates as evidence they should be reëlected to office. Their interest seems to be better served by dancing on the grave of the dead victim of an event more likely to be prevented by more widespread gun ownership than facilitated by it.
Their interest seems to be better served by bowing and scraping before powerful gun control lobbies like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose president, Paul Helmke, offered a sound bite or two (or three) of his own:
Congress should think very hard about their responsibilities for public safety before weakening gun laws in our nation’s capital, and should rethink their decision to allow more guns in our national public areas.
It is dangerous to force more guns into places that American families expect to be gun-free and safe.
Clearly, the fact that further murders were prevented only because good people had firearms at the scene of this crime never crossed Helmke’s mind when he composed that gem. Nor, it seems, did the fact that the place was only free of legal firearms, discounting for the moment the security guards. He also seems perfectly content to ignore the fact that Congress didn’t “force” more guns anywhere by loosening restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms; it only gave people more choice whether to keep and bear arms.
. . . but what have we learned from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting?
Judging by the behavior of DC officials, all we’ve learned is how to turn yet an other tragedy into a talking point for policy that isn’t even supported by these events.