COMMENTARY: Hate crimes and guns

c. 1999 Religion News Service

(Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)

UNDATED _ There are now two deadly epidemics in the country _ high school shoot outs and hate killings. Like all epidemics they are contagious.

Sick teen-agers see on television that you can achieve a few moments of fame by gunning down your classmates, especially popular athletes. So they try to do the same. White supremacists, like Bufford Furrow and Benjamin Anderson, shoot up Jews, blacks, Asians and others they find objectionable and those with same convictions imitate them.

Both epidemics will run their course _ and then perhaps start in again.

There is little that can be done to stop such crimes. As long as every crackpot in our society can have ready access to deadly weapons, such epidemics will flare up and consume innocent victims. Those who oppose gun control cannot escape moral responsibility for the butchery.

Moreover, all the gun-control legislation currently proposed is far too weak, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans want effective gun control. Only laws that virtually disarm America will stop the periodic explosions of violence across the land.

But one can hardly hope for laws that will make guns as rare in this country as they are in Japan or Britain. Surely, however, we can make it far more difficult for crazies and junkies to buy and own weapons whose only purpose is killing other human beings.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a so-called compassionate conservative, has signed legislation that permits citizens of his state to carry concealed weapons. If he is elected president, along with a Congress dominated by equally compassionate Republicans, we can expect similar legislation to sweep the nation. The whole country will become a frontier town like Tombstone or Dodge City with routine shoot-outs at the urban equivalent of the OK Corral. What a marvelously compassionate country this will be!

Bush has said one can stop gun-related crimes by making certain those who commit crimes with guns are punished. This is compassion?

Neither the Columbine killers nor the white supremacist who went on a murderous rampage in Illinois or Indiana are around to be punished. They chose to kill themselves in a last act of defiance. The fear of punishment would have stopped them, Governor? Gimme a break!

The only thing that could have prevented their bloody frenzies would have been the lack of deadly weapons. As long as deadly weapons are cheap and readily available, the killing will continue.

Wyatt Earp, where are you when we really need you?

Earp, you will remember, maintained peace by disarming the bad guys. Even the famous shoot-out near the OK Corral began as an attempt to disarm the Clanton gang. The country needs legislators who have the same raw courage as Earp had. We do not need congressmen, senators, governors and presidential candidates who want to turn the country into an armed camp.

Given the fact Bush is clearly a captive of the gun lobby, I fervently hope guns and the periodic murderous rampages they spawn will become a major issue in the next presidential election. And I hope the Democratic candidate will have the courage to advocate an Earp-like strategy for the nation: stop the killing by taking the guns away from would-be killers.

It is very easy to kill someone if you really want to do it.

Steal a car, equip yourself with a reconstituted Uzzi, drive into a neighborhood where you are likely to encounter some of the people you hate, open fire on them, drive off, drop the gun in the river, abandon the car and wait for your next opportunity. You might even own the gun legally if you live in a state like Texas.

Or if you want to wipe out a score or so of your high-school classmates without having to risk the electronic barriers in the school, you can buy a Tec-9 from someone, swing by in your car when they're pouring out of school and gun them down, and then blow off your own skull. Bush and similar gun supporters will blame it on the media or your family life, so you won't even be fully blamed.

Certainly they won't blame the people who made your gun or sold it to you. Or the legislators who have been bought off by the gun lobby.