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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pro / Con

Gun laws wouldn't have stopped Kyle Huff

Special to The Times

Seattle has been buzzing with talk about the gruesome murders on Capitol Hill perpetrated by Kyle Huff. Commentary from law-enforcement officials and opinion writers attacks Washington state's liberal firearms laws.

"Not adequately restricting people from acquiring guns," the argument goes, "causes incidents like this one." To the casual observer, this appears true and is adequate reason to ban firearms.

But beyond casual observation, things are not so simple. In order to consider this issue, we have to accept a couple of facts:

• First, guns are not going anywhere. A dedicated person with the right know-how can build a gun in an afternoon. Also, since the demand for guns isn't going away, there will always be suppliers in the market, no matter how regulated. A good example of this phenomenon is illegal drugs: The demand is high enough that suppliers are willing to risk exposure and prosecution to meet it. It is not possible to stop the exchange of a desired commodity by regulation; the most secure and regulated society on Earth is prison, and even there these demands are met.

• Second, no law will prevent people from breaking the law. Kyle Huff legally purchased an arsenal, and then illegally killed six innocents. Considering the magnitude of this crime, it is ludicrous to propose that breaking a gun-ownership law would have given him any pause. To put it differently, if I have already mentally consented to robbing a bank, will it matter that I jaywalk while crossing the street to get there?

• Third, crimes occur regardless of means. Even if we ignore the fact that there is no getting rid of firearms and establish some Pollyanna reality wherein we can cram all guns — and the know-how for creating them — back into Pandora's box, the fact is that people don't need guns to commit extremely violent acts. You need no history degree to know that we were remarkably successful at brutality with bows and arrows, spears, swords and clubs.

I know that the opiners are well-meaning, believing that they can better the world by limiting access to firearms. Given the tools available, however, it is not possible to limit access to firearms for anyone who is already willing to break the law. If I am willing to break the law by using a firearm in a crime, then I would be willing to break the law to acquire it in the first place.

Consider England's firearm ban. Department of Justice statistics on violent crime in England versus in the U.S. show that not only has England's gun ban not slowed violent crime, it seems to have increased it, the country's more recent crime rates surpassing our own.

Though counterintuitive, this really isn't difficult to understand. Complex, robust networks already exist to support the illegal commodity exchange of regulated goods. Anyone accessing those networks is already a criminal by definition. Banning guns adds them to the strictly criminal commodity exchange, having two undesirable outcomes. First, reducing the number of legal firearms reduces the amount of resistance that criminals encounter when committing crimes. Second, criminal access to anything increases by making it contraband, because demand forces contraband distribution channels into the hands of criminals. So, putting legal restrictions on guns actually increases their availability to those whom you least want to have them.

Another common complaint is that some guns, such as Kyle Huff's shotgun, are designed for use on people, not for valid or legal purposes. A reasoning person would define a firearm as illegal or invalid based upon its lethality, but gun-control activists do so based upon how threatened they feel looking at it.

A sawed-off, pistol-grip shotgun is less accurate and less damaging than its full-barrel companions, and significantly less damaging than a rifle/pistol. People prefer shotguns specifically because shot won't penetrate the target, wall, neighbor's house, and neighbor's sleeping child before stopping. It is safer than a pistol.

Kyle Huff owned an arsenal, and there is no shortage of people who would like to illegalize the guns that he used. Just know that he would have had those guns in the most restrictive society; nothing could possibly have changed that.

I feel terrible for his victims — but they were the victims of his decisions, not of our lack of regulations, and it is ignorant to believe otherwise.

Jacob Greenleaf of Seattle manages technology for a financial institution. He is not a gun owner.

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