Second Thoughts

Alan Korwin is a smart guy. So why does he love guns more than people?

While it's a noble cause -- the law is named after a girl who was killed by an errant bullet -- it occurs to me that gun wielders who fire unrandomlyare a much greater threat. One or two people a year might fall victim to celebratory gunfire. In 1998, 833 Arizonans died from firearm misuse -- homicides, suicides, accidents -- according to a recent study issued by the Trauma Program at St. Joseph's Hospital. In the past decade, the toll in Arizona has been 9,766. The state's rate of firearms deaths is nearly double the national rate.

The menace of falling bullets pales in comparison to these numbers, yet they inspire no gun control initiatives.

Shannon's Law gives prosecutors the option of lodging misdemeanor or felony charges against an offender.

Korwin says felony laws already on the books -- endangerment and disorderly conduct -- are enough to deter celebratory gunfire, provided they are enforced. Shannon's Law is one more step into the pit of tyranny.

"It's a do-nothing, feel-good piece of legislation," he says. "The public was hoodwinked, with the help of the media, into believing it was a solution, when everybody involved knew the solution lay elsewhere."

Shannon's Law took effect July 1. In a December 11 press release, Korwin discloses Phoenix police statistics that indicate calls about random gunfire have increased since the statute took effect.

Phoenix City Councilman Phil Gordon, a proponent of Shannon's Law, provides far different numbers. His data show random gunfire complaints declining. A police spokesman wasn't able to reconcile the disparate numbers.

In any case, Gordon wonders: "What's the harm in having additional tools in the tool chest to fight this crazy act? It isn't a publicity stunt, it's serious. This is what the prosecutors said they wanted. This is what the police said they wanted."

Korwin believes Shannon's Law was indeed a publicity stunt. He wants random gunfire to stop, too, he says. New laws only convolute matters.

"The mayor has to tell the police chief that he wants random gunfire arrests, real random gunfire arrests -- stakeouts, shoe-leather police work. Catch the perpetrators and lock them up," Korwin says.

Coincidentally, Gordon and Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley were in Washington, D.C., last week to explain the wonders of Shannon's Law and their anti-slumlord initiative to Attorney General Janet Reno. The councilman says Reno considers both to be national models.

While there, Gordon applied for a $1 million Justice Department grant that would fund equipment capable of tracking the source of gunfire in neighborhoods. He says the grant would pay for four mobile units that can each cover a square mile, discerning gunshots from auto backfires and firecrackers, then triangulating them to pinpoint the source. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have pledged to support the grant application, according to Gordon.


Alan Korwin's Internet site, gunlaws.com, contains a page devoted to semantical rectitude. Don't say you're "pro-gun," say you're "pro-rights." Refer to the "anti-gun movement" as the "anti-self-defense movement." Correct any reference to "the powerful gun lobby" to "civil rights organizations." "Common sense legislation" should be known as "dangerous utopian ideas." And my personal favorite: "Assault or lethal weapons" are really "household firearms."

But after hours of interviews, Korwin isn't so obdurate as to dismiss the sucking chest wound in our Constitution. He calls the rate of firearms death and disfigurement "horrible."

"Every one of them is a tragedy," he says, then quickly adds, "and they cast aspersions on us good folks who have nothing to do with it."

Korwin is troubled by the depth of firearm carnage. It looks bad, seems indefensible. But things aren't as bad as we think they are. Many of these deaths can be explained and, apparently, tolerated. He harps repeatedly that thousands of the gun deaths in this country every year are geriatric suicides. Better social programs are the cure.

"Half of these deaths are old folks looking for a way out. Maybe some of these . . . people they should come out and take away and put into the right kind of hospital.

"We need more hospice and elder care. We need to examine the issues related to euthanasia. If we're successful on these issues, we will eliminate half of the gun-related deaths in the country."

While he respects a person's right to end his or her own life, he doesn't want them doing it with guns. It hurts the cause.

Suicides made up more than half of the gun deaths in 1998, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But people older than 65 accounted for not half, but less than a quarter of them. The Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, reports that from 1980 to 1994, the suicide rate for teens increased by 29 percent. In households with guns, the suicide rate is five times higher than in those without.

Korwin attributes the bulk of the remainder of firearm deaths to gang crime and the government's war on "some drugs." After elder suicides, he says, "most of the rest are gang-related. The rest are practically too small to be on the radar screen, compared to other unacceptable causes of premature death."

I am incredulous.

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