Letter to the Editor: It Isn’t Just Career Criminals Who Use Guns to Kill

By BILL JOHNSON
Los Alamos

I should like to respond to the unfortunate, unwise, and in some regards, contrafactual Letter to the Editor from Vincent Chiravalle with the title “Leave Lawful Gun Owners and Sportsman[sic] Alone.” 

Mr. Chiravalle characteristically misses a very important point in this conversation, namely that “tough, mandatory sentences for gun crimes” have little deterrent value for crimes of passion, and none whatsoever for perpetrators who have decided to take their own lives along with others.

The following story is true, with the name and a minor detail of the case changed to protect the memory of an otherwise decent man (I am reminded of the old black-humor line “other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”) and a friend:

Years ago I shared an office with a man I’ll call “Igor.” He was a foreign national living in the United States to work as a scientist, in a field where he was one of the world’s great experts. He was not merely a highly skilled and intelligent professional, but also an urbane, thoughtful, gentle, considerate, and above all, law-abiding man … until the day he took two lives and ruined a third.

Igor’s marriage had been placed under enormous stress due to a family tragedy that I will not describe here, and a time came when his wife found the stress intolerable and left him, taking up with another man. We who knew Igor knew that he was taking the breakup of his marriage poorly, and we tried our best to be understanding, but our best wasn’t good enough. A day came when he couldn’t stand it anymore … and he did the “American” thing. He went out and bought a handgun, the time-honored “Saturday Night Special.”

Only a very few days later, Igor caught his estranged wife with the other man. He shot them both. His wife died instantly; the other man was crippled for life. Igor then drove off to a favorite place in the mountains, and turned the gun on himself. His aim was better than when he shot his romantic rival.

“Tough, mandatory sentences for gun crimes” would have done nothing to prevent this tragedy; Igor had already decided to end his own life when he took that of his estranged wife. Nor was he a known criminal whose purchase of a Saturday Night Special might — or might not — have been denied because of a criminal record. “Known” criminal, nothing; not wanting to be deported as an undesirable alien, he had scrupulously avoided any criminal malfeasance whatever — until that first and last one. The only thing that would have kept Igor from killing two and wounding one was simply for him not to be able to buy a gun that was bordering on worthless for any task except the exact one he used it for.

Mr. Chiravalle may find it emotionally gratifying to spout hackneyed lines about stiff punishments “deterring” criminals, but the sad fact is that many firearms crimes are NOT perpetrated by career criminals, and stiff punishments are no deterrent at all to perpetrators like Igor. If Mr. Chiravalle gets his way, there are going to be more sad incidents like this one, incidents that could have been avoided with responsible controls on guns intended for use against human beings.

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