4:24 PM CST, January 30, 2013
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing today where he questioned Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association about expanding background checks to cover private sales, which produced an interesting exchange. (The answer is no.)
Leahy is in a slightly awkward position for a couple of reasons. The first is that the bill proposed by prominent Democrats includes a ban on "assault weapons" that he declines to endorse. The second is that he's from Vermont.
Why does his home state matter? Because it seriously undermines the case for gun control. Advocates believe that permissive laws foster lethal violence and strict ones prevent it. But Vermont, despite its highly liberal reputation, has among the loosest gun laws in the nation.
No background checks, no limits on assault weapons or large magazines -- heck, you can carry a pistol openly without a permit. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives it an "F." But its homicide rate is less than one-third the national rate, and only two states have a lower homicide rate.
How come? Probably because laws are not the crucial variable. California gets an A-minus, but its murder rate is slightly above average. Utah gets an F and it is nearly as safe as Vermont.
The fact that is hard for many people to grasp is that it doesn't matter much how easy it is to get a gun if the people who get them are law-abiding. The danger comes when criminals get guns. But the people most affected by gun control laws are the people who pose the lowest threat.
Pat Leahy probably knows that.
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