Monday, January 2, 2012

Lay Down Your Arms

A bad omen: An 11-year-old boy plays with a toy gun in Bogotá's Santa Fe neighborhood. 
Just-inaugurated Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro's most surprising announcement yesterday was that he'd promote a law banning the carrying of firearms in public. 

The wild west? El Mio tabloid
says so, reporting on a shooting death.
The idea is very imperfect, but worth trying, and a glance at today's El Tiempo shows why. Colombians celebrating the New Year by firing guns into the air injured at least five children and killed a six-year-old girl in Medellin. In Nariño Province, a mayor elect was assassinated by gunmen even before he could take office. And, in Argentina, the governor of Rio Negro province was killed by a gunshot in the face, apparently because of a domestic accident.

Guns make it much easier
for people to kill people. 
Obviously, if carrying guns is outlawed, only outlaws will carry guns. But, with fewer guns in circulation and a clearer law, police should be able to more easily identify the bad guys. More importantly, the no-carry law will prevent many good people from turning into bad ones thru stupidity, such as pulling out a gun and shooting someone during a drunken brawl. And, guns in good, law-abiding folks' hands get lost or stolen and end up in the hands of criminals.

'To love or to arms?' Asks this poster
hung on City Hall on Plaza Bolivar.
Back in the U.S., I once met a victim of such a stupid tragedy. I worked construction with a man in his mid-40s who had just completed a ten-year prison sentence. A decade before, this man had driven into a gas station in Texas and begun filling his tank. What he did not know was that the station required customers to pay before pumping, and it turned out that someone else was in the office paying for the gasoline which my acquaintance was pumping. The other customer thot my acquaintance was stealing his gas, and, being a Texan, he pulled out his gun to resolve the situation. My acquaintance then drew his own gun and shot the other man. The misunderstanding over a few dollars worth of gasoline killed one man and stole ten years from the life of another.

If they had not been armed, it would have all ended with a few sharp words. 

No guns allowed: On the
side of an OAS vehicle. 
At 38 per 100,000 people in 2010, Colombia has an inexcusably-high intentional homicide rate. And, in 2005, firearms caused 81% of those killings. Firearm accidents weren't even counted. (Look at the bloodiest nations on Wikipedia's list, incidentally, and you'll see a list of the countries which Colombia's cocaine is trafficked thru to the U.S., which may mean also something.)

In Bogotá, incidentally, the murder rate has dropped to a lower-but-still-way-too-high 21.5 per 100,000 people, and hopefully will continue dropping.

Non-deadly defenses.
Gun rights advocates will claim that no-carry laws leave them defenseless. But lots of other, non-fatal self-defense tools are available, such as stun guns, mace, tasers, pepper spray, electrocuting brass nuckles, and lots more. I carry around a pepper spray and have pulled it out several times in threatening situations, but never had to use it. The bad guys see the thing, think twice, and go away.

But if I did use it - perhaps mistakenly - I wouldn't be a killer.

In 1989, Petro and the rest of the M-19 guerrilla group lay down their guns and began participating in Colombian politics. The demobilization was a success. But today Petro may have a tougher time getting many thousands of armed Bogotanos to lay down their own guns.

Petro's plan to give away a free stipend of water to lower-income Bogotanos isn't so positive. The intention is good, but giving anything away promotes waste. Instead, the city could distribute low-cost water-saving devices such as low-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets. That way, they'd save both money and water.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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