The latest tidbit from the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing should interest those Americans who have been pondering whether proposed gun control laws would actually deter or stop criminals from obtaining weapons. The Associated Press informs us that the Tsarnaev brothers did not have legal permits for the guns they used in their shootouts with police, when they killed one and wounded another officer:
Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas tells The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that neither Tamerlan Tsarnaev nor his brother Dzhokhar had permission to carry firearms. He says it’s unclear whether either ever applied and the applications aren’t considered public records. But he says the 19-year-old Dzhokhar would have been denied a permit because of his age. Only people 21 or older are allowed gun licenses in Massachusetts.
No doubt we’ll learn more about how the Tsarnaevs got their guns as well as their bomb-making materials in the future as the investigation proceeds, but this makes perfect sense. People who are accumulating an arsenal of weapons to carry out a crime—whether they are habitual criminals and/or gang members or potential terrorists–aren’t limited to licensed gun dealers or even private sellers at gun shows, which would have only been required to perform background checks on purchasers if the Toomey-Manchin bill had passed. It also goes without saying that the pressure cookers and the ball bearings used as shrapnel that the brothers used in their bombs were also not registered with the authorities.
The draconian gun laws on the books in Massachusetts did nothing to stop the Tsarnaevs from finding the weapons they used to carry out their terrorist attack or their deadly shootouts with police. More gun legislation, even the reasonable Manchin-Toomey attempt to close background check loopholes that would not have violated anyone’s Second Amendment rights, wouldn’t have stopped them from killing Officer Sean Collier, let alone killing three persons and wounded 150 others at the Marathon.
Advocates of gun restrictions tell us that even if they save a single life they are worth it, and that is a powerful argument. But the facts of most criminal cases, be they the mass slaughter in Newtown or the atrocities carried out by the Tsarnaevs in Boston, show that such laws have a minimal impact on violent crime while substantially burdening law-abiding citizens who wish to legally own firearms. To say that is not to argue against all gun restrictions, but it should cause us to put the outrage over the demise of the latest attempt to pass gun control laws in perspective.
The self-righteous anger exhibited by President Obama and the stage-managed use of the families of the Newtown victims is geared to exploit the deep emotions Americans feel about that crime. But the connection between such laws and the prevention of gun violence remains tenuous. Boston shows us once again that criminals will find ways to obtain guns no matter what the laws say. That shouldn’t deter us from seeking to prevent felons and the mentally ill from getting guns, but it ought to cause those politicians inclined to grandstand on the issue to pipe down a bit. Gun laws didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs from getting all the firepower they needed. Nor will it stop the next madman who wants to perpetrate another Newtown. And it’s time to stop pretending that they will.