Chad Perrin: SOB

12 June 2009

What do we learn from the Holocaust Museum shooting?

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 06:17

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 reĆ«lected 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.



  1. Took you long enough. ;)

    Well said and true enough though. It’s not more restrictive (and more) laws that we need, it’s more choice to be able to protect ourselves that we need. Criminals will always find a way to get at that genie that’s been let out of the bottle.

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy Jr — 12 June 2009 @ 07:35

  2. Took you long enough.

    Yeah, I know . . .

    I get paid to rip Microsoft a new one, whereas this is just a labor of love (or loathing, sometimes). As a result, the other venue generally takes precedent, I’m afraid. C’est la vie.

    Comment by apotheon — 12 June 2009 @ 08:10

  3. Clearly we just need to make it illegal to illegally carry firearms then. Can’t believe no one thought of that yet.

    But I think you’re missing the real question here. What I want to know is whether this can be blamed on right wing extremism or left wing extremism! Vapid minds want to know. Lets check what Limbaugh has to say.

    Comment by Mina — 12 June 2009 @ 09:58

  4. @apotheon: I know, just teasing a bit. I’ve been in that sort of mood lately.

    @Mina: Left or right wing, it’s extremism and it’s bad. Racism and bigotry exist purely in the vacuum of accumulated knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes that vacuum is circumstantial. In those cases it can be fixed. In other cases it is purposeful and therefor cannot be fixed. I believe Holocaust deniers exist in latter group. They choose not to believe in the Holocaust for whatever transient reason suits their purpose and then choose a weapon to go on a bender with.

    Had the museum been a wooden building I’m sure he would have tried to set it on fire. Perhaps we should make fire illegal so we can cut down on the number or arsonists. After all, only criminals would want to have access to such a dangerous weapon. /sarcasm

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy Jr — 12 June 2009 @ 12:49

  5. Mina:

    Clearly we just need to make it illegal to illegally carry firearms then. Can’t believe no one thought of that yet.

    Brilliant! I wish I’d thought of that!


    I know, just teasing a bit.

    I figured.

    Left or right wing, it’s extremism and it’s bad.

    She knows. She was just being wry and amusing.

    Perhaps we should make fire illegal so we can cut down on the number or arsonists. After all, only criminals would want to have access to such a dangerous weapon.

    I think it was Bill Ruger who said something like “No honest man needs more than 10 matches in any matchbox.” Maybe it was “No honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun,” though. You know how easily confused I am.

    Comment by apotheon — 12 June 2009 @ 01:02

  6. Indeed.

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy Jr — 12 June 2009 @ 07:04

  7. John Stewart did a fair job of pointing out how each side of the political aisle tried to assign blame for the shooting to what was essentially an long-time troubled old man.

    Comment by Cherokee Sam Bradford — 16 June 2009 @ 10:44

  8. It’s the people using the guns, not the guns themselves. That is the problem and it really REALLY irritates me that people can’t see that. Let’s blame all of the problems on guns, the objects, rather than the people that are causing the issues. People are capable of owning and carrying guns without going on a shooting rampage. We’re not all psychotic. It’s a shame that the man was killed. But it wasn’t a gun that killed him, it was the man holding the gun that did.

    Comment by Hip-hop music — 24 June 2009 @ 03:18

  9. Lets try to keep things in perspective. Bad people kill people often, and sometimes they use guns. But lets think of the guns that saved many other innocent bystanders from getting killed. Guns can take life and they can also save life when in the right hands. Unfortunately, guns make their way into hands of bad people and then things can go terribly wrong.

    Comment by Florida Web Design — 25 August 2009 @ 11:26

  10. Let me put it another way. If no one had guns, what will happen? You still would have bad guys trying to hurt others, but they would have to use other (less lethal) means. And the police would also react with less lethal means. It is a bit like nuclear disarmament, all sides should progressively be forced to disarm. And the result will be less damage in the world.

    Comment by Vanessa — 26 August 2009 @ 11:20

  11. . . . or, alternatively, the elimination of tools suitable to self-defense will result in people with inborn psychological and physical “advantages” (i.e. predatory men with more upper body strength) having greater success in attempts to prey upon those without such advantages (e.g. most academics and women), and less fear of doing so (because surveys of convicted criminals reveal a greater fear of armed civilians than the police and courts) leading to more such attempts.

    That completely ignores the ethical dubiousness of being “forced to disarm.”

    And the result will be less damage in the world.

    Your conclusion does not necessarily follow from your premises. In fact, from where I’m sitting, it looks like rights would be greater damage to individual rights — both from government (forcing people to give up arbitrary classes of possessions) and from the criminal element (committing violent and property crimes more successfully and more often against unarmed victims).

    Comment by apotheon — 26 August 2009 @ 12:36

  12. Guns in the wrong hands kill people. But guns in the right hands can also save people. We live in a world that has good and evil. We can only hope the good out weighs the evil in the long run.

    Comment by Custom Magnets — 27 August 2009 @ 06:27

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