The gun people descended upon City Hall recently to fire their paper volleys upon Councilman Joseph Lisa’s proposal to outlaw the sale and possession of semi-automatic rifles in New York City.

Man, the individual, is sometimes easygoing and sometimes pigheaded, but men united in battle array are almost always pigheaded. Possess otherwise sensible persons with enough passion for some special cause, and you are guaranteed a collective of absolutists to whom the surrender of an inch means the loss of all their ground. So it is with Choicers and Right to Lifers, and so it is with the gun people.

The posture of the National Rifle Association is so granitic as to stand against even the minimal precaution of laws requiring any gun customer to wait five days before delivery so his good character can be established. Those measures do not work conspicuously well anyhow, because their checks are performed by the dealers, who object to the law and could hardly be asked for excesses of zeal in its enforcement.

Whenever any group of men and women join together to protect some particular object of desire, they are bound to end up clutching it to themselves as an icon of which no ill can be spoken without protest.

“Let’s say I choose an Uzi,” says Stephen L. D’Andrilli of the Guardian Group International Corporation. “It feels good. It looks good. It makes me feel good.”

“You have some strange aberration,” Councilman Lisa observed. “You like to run your hand….” And a wounded Stephen D’Andrilli said, “That wasn’t nice.”

He had chosen a word that didn’t fit the case. Lisa had not been polite. It is guns that are not nice. We would go too far to speak of a pornography of guns, but there are pitches of cuddling and petting in the relationship that could well seem unseemly to the prurient. Stephen D’Andrilli was talking about love, and the one flaw that can never in any way be conceded or even imagined in the loved one is a scintilla of the malign.

“Moreover, medical technology has greatly outstripped firearms technology in the last two hundred years,” D’Andrilli’s prepared testimony had pointed out more comfortably than comfortingly.

Because gunshot wounds are much less likely to result in fatalities today, a criminal firing a semi-automatic gun…for six minutes…today would kill fewer people than a criminal firing a more primitive gun two hundred years ago.

One curiosity of the arguments of the gun people is how tellingly often a testament to the benignity of their chosen instrument turns into one more revelation of how terrible it is. “Licensed gun owners do not shoot at police,” D’Andrilli not implausibly asserted. “In fact, 35 percent of all officers shot are shot with their own guns or by those of a backup officer.”

It happens to be an additional fact certified by the New York Police Department that, in 1988, 444 persons with gun permits were arrested on charges that included 155 assaults and menacings, three robberies, and four murders or attempts at same. Each arrestee had earned his license with a history of good behavior that only ceased after he could buy a gun.

Late in the afternoon, two doctors from Harlem Hospital arrived to testify to a 400 percent increase in deliveries to their emergency room of children shot by children. “In northern Manhattan,” Dr. Arthur Cooper said, “34 percent of the children who die die of gunshot wounds. I do not think the Constitution ever had in mind the right of children to keep and bear arms to kill other children.”

After he passed that awful diagnosis, there seemed no way left for believing that we have not arrived where no law can cure us and where Joseph Lisa can achieve nothing more than one of those expressions of the civilized conscience that are to the NRA the ultimate in affronts.

Copyright © 1989 Newsday, Inc.

This Issue

December 21, 1989