HANDGUN CONTROLS, YES, BUT PLEASE, NOT RIFLES AND SHOTGUNS - The Buffalo News

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HANDGUN CONTROLS, YES, BUT PLEASE, NOT RIFLES AND SHOTGUNS

Those of us who argue for sensible waiting periods before buying handguns -- dangerous in part because of their concealability -- take comfort in the fact that anyone fearful of the homestead being invaded won't be hurt by the delay.

After circling the wagons and gathering up the children, they can immediately buy a shotgun and not have to feel helpless should someone break in. In fact, they won't even have to worry about aiming: Just point it at the doorway, pull the trigger, and police response time becomes irrelevant. Even most gun-control advocates would concede that right.

That's why, after holding a planned public hearing, the Common Council would be right to kill Mayor Griffin's ill-considered proposal to impose a seven-day waiting period in Buffalo for the purchase of a rifle or shotgun.

There is some benefit -- though indirect -- in the mayor's proposal. Anything that prompts people to rethink our frontier mentality has merit.

It seems a long time ago that one cowpoke could throw a drink in the other's face, and respect had to be salvaged by drawing on each other in the dusty street outside the saloon. But if last month's fistfight in which a high school student got bested and then got off the floor shooting is any indication, we haven't really come very far since then.

If Griffin's proposal initiates reflection on incidents like that -- on why so many with a grievance reflexively view the gun as a solution, forcing others to respond in kind -- it can help change a national culture that still sees guns as a panacea.

But as a practical matter, the proposal is folly. In fact, it will only detract attention from more worthwhile methods of reasonably controlling the flow of weapons.

For one thing, imposing a waiting period in Buffalo would simply prompt city residents who want a rifle or shotgun immediately to drive up the street until they cross the city line. Thus, it's hardly much of a deterrent.

As such, it suffers from the same flaw found in the hodgepodge of state regulations on handguns. Strict laws in one state are undermined by the fact that handguns can easily be imported from others that are less conscientious. That's why a national waiting period -- though far shorter than the ridiculous seven-month wait in Erie County -- is necessary.

But even ignoring the geographical defect in Griffin's proposal, the case still hasn't been made that a person should not be able to immediately buy a rifle or shotgun to defend their house or family. That's particularly true in urban areas like Buffalo, where crime is rising three times faster than the national average for mid-size cities.

Against that reality, it makes little sense to treat long guns just like handguns, which can be easily concealed and therefore are much more of a threat on the streets. Otherwise-law-abiding persons don't typically pull a rifle out from under a jacket and blow away someone after a minor traffic accident -- as happened with a handgun outside of Eastern Hills Mall earlier this year. That difference in portability between handguns and long guns justifies a difference in approach.

But beyond being impractical, telling people in high-crime areas they can't quickly arm themselves for home protection is politically foolish.

Some may not wish to arm. They might recall the area toddler killed earlier this year when a sibling got hold of the family rifle that was supposed to have been unloaded, but wasn't. It illustrates that guns in the home more often end up hurting an acquaintance than an intruder. Others simply may not want to add to the stock of guns stolen during burglaries and put back on the street.

But there is comfort in knowing the option is there; it's a security blanket. Destroying that with unnecessary restraints on rifles or shotguns is the quickest way to destroy the national consensus in favor of reasonable controls on handguns or military-style weapons and magazines.

The other part of Griffin's proposal, calling for a gun amnesty, is sensible. It could rid homes of guns that could be involved in accidental shootings or taken in burglaries. And even gun-rights advocates can't really complain because it's voluntary. Any objections would have to be on financial grounds, though such programs elsewhere have not run big tabs.

But the waiting period for long guns would do little, while distracting from the more meaningful solutions that have to be implemented in Washington, not City Hall.

ROD WATSON is an editorial writer for The News.

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