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Ban the butcher knives

By JAY AMBROSE, Scripps Howard News Service
August 20, 2004

"A man was fatally stabbed after he commented on another man's hairstyle in an apartment lobby, deputies said." — Pompano Beach, Fla., Associated Press, Aug. 15, 2004.

"A Highland Park man was sentenced to 35 years in prison Thursday for the stabbing death of a woman last year." — Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2004.

"In a statement to police, the mother said she stabbed Kayla in the chest with a foot-long butcher knife." — Buffalo News, July 20, 2004.

The above cases all involved butcher knives and represent just three of many thousands of butcher-knife stabbings that have occurred in recent years. I checked it out in an electronic library, and let me tell you, some of the butcher-knife slayings you can read about there will make your stomach churn.

Isn't it about time, fellow Americans, that we outlawed the sale of these wide-blade, sickeningly long means of mayhem, replacing them in our kitchens with short, thin knives that could easily perform all the necessary culinary functions?

A stupid argument? I confess that it is, but not much stupider than the argument of a New York Times columnist arguing for an extension of a national assault-weapon ban due to expire on Sept. 13. "The bottom line," he wrote, "is that Mr. Bush's waffling on assault weapons will mean more dead Americans." Here, in one sentence, is just about everything wrong with the arguments of gun-control enthusiasts, not to mention a certain brand of morally superior leftists.

The bottom line, in fact, is that doing what this columnist wants would almost certainly have exactly zero impact on gun deaths in this country. I would agree that except for its being politically deceptive and for getting in the way of people who employ the guns to blast away safely at inanimate targets, the ban poses no particular harm. The guns are not so useful as butcher knives. But neither is there any particular advantage. The ban was a fraud to begin with.

Assault weapons, you might think, are automatic, blam-blam-blam, machine-gun equivalents. Hold the trigger down and you can spray the room with lead, missing nothing. Nope. Assault weapons are semiautomatic. To fire the first shot, you have to pull the trigger. To fire the second shot, you have to pull the trigger. And the same with the third, fourth and on and on. In that respect, assault weapons are no different from many other kinds of guns — semiautomatic pistols, many hunting rifles, many shotguns — anymore than butcher knives are much different in their killing potential from many other kinds of knives.

What differentiates assault weapons from these other firearms is not what they do, as a number of commentators have now pointed out. It is how they look — namely, very mean, just as a butcher knife may look more frightening than the average steak knife. Even if extending the ban would somehow totally eliminate all those already in existence — it wouldn't do any such thing — not much imagination would be required for the criminals who use them to switch to something else that works as well or better, as the vast majority of criminals already do.

The Times columnist — Nicholas Kristof — is particularly irksome and self-righteous in his insistence that President Bush will be responsible for killings if he does not press for an extension of the ban. Not only would this measure keep nary a soul alive, but it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to prove that any gun-control measure — there are hundreds in the land — has ever helped reduce crime. What's effective are such things as putting criminals in prisons for a long time and improving police-department performance.

In short, you must aim at stopping the criminal behavior, not taking steps that mostly make people search out different means of accomplishing their evil ends. To paraphrase a point that liberals love to mock but that makes sense, it's not butcher knives that kill people — it's those who wield the knives.

Naples Daily News article


(Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers and can be reached at AmbroseJ@shns.com )

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