The Guns at Columbine

by Jonathan Wallace

What we know so far: the eighteen year old girlfriend of one of the Columbine High School killers bought some of the guns they used at a gun show nearby. Another gun was purchased by a co-worker. The murder weapons were all legally purchased in the immediate area. According to an article in the Times last week, most crime weapons are bought, not stolen as the NRA claims.

I noticed years ago that this was true. Whenever you read an account of a mass shooting, you usually find that the killer bought the gun. The LIRR shooter bought his at a gun shop in California. The student who shot other students at a college in the Berkshires bought his weapon nearby on Route 7. And so on.

A study of the source of weapons found at New York City crime scenes showed that most were purchased at gun stores in the South. Virginia instituted a limit--no more than one handgun per month--because it was embarrassed to be the origin of so many weapons used in New York City crimes.

The Columbine killer's girlfriend was a "straw man," a legal purchaser who immediately transferred the weapons to someone who could not have bought them himself. This is also very common. A student who shot other high school students in the South some years ago had his uncle buy his weapon. New York City gang members enlist residents of Southern cities to buy their guns for them.

Gun shows are a special problem. They are a glaring loophole in the federal gun laws. The idea is that private citizens may sell guns to one another without the need of dealer licenses or background checks. Shows are a nexus for these private sales, like a flea market for guns.

Why not hold drug shows? We could all come to the Coliseum and exchange Seconal, Zoloft, Quaaludes. I don't need to be a physician or pharmacist, you don't need a prescription. Because its a private sale. If we permit it for guns, why wouldn't we do the same for drugs?

The Brady law never applied to gun shows. No five day waiting period or background check. Anyone who wanted a gun in a hurry, with no questions asked, just had to seek out a show instead of a store.

One of the guns used at Columbine was a Tec-9, a semiautomatic handgun once specifically advertised by its manufacturer as the most popular crime weapon in America. The Tec-9 was banned under President Clinton's semiautomatic weapon order some years ago and is no longer made, but the ones that are still out there can be legally sold.

The school shooting incidents of the past year and a half raise a unique problem. The Second Amendment purists said after earlier incidents-- and I heard at least one say the same after Columbine--that the solution is to put more guns in the schools. If every teacher, the principal, every fellow student was armed, I suppose they could have blazed away at the killers (and incidentally, each other) until the whole thing was over. Its not any kind of school I would care to send my child to, and the body count might have been just as high.

Like most parents, I would rather see fewer guns. One way to get there would be to close the gun show loophole, as President Clinton has promised to do.