Recently, Scott Engen, paid lobbyist for the Utah Shooting Sports Council, used the editorial pages of this newspaper to address Utahns worried about the wisdom of unleashing thousands of concealed weapons on the streets as a result of the passage of HB70, for which Engen and other members of the gun lobby pushed in the 1995 Legislature (Forum March 28).
There's nothing to worry about, he tells us. After all, the new concealed weapons law still requires that applicants be fingerprinted and photographed and undergo a minimal background check. Lives will be saved, not imperiled.But Engen and his cohorts in the gun lobby aren't being straight with us. Try as they might to disguise it, their ultimate answer to society's problems is to arm everyone and let us fight it out in the streets. Since we can't count on our police or our social institutions to help us, they argue, the answer is a sort of high-tech Wild West, with every citizen putting his trust in a gun - or in the friendly unregulated "citizen militia." Instead of a society based on mutual trust and kindness, the gun lobby's ideal society is based on fear and firepower.
In their frenzy to fill our streets with the smell of gunpowder, Engen and the rest of the gun lobby oppose any restrictions on weapons, no matter how reasonable. In 1995, the Utah Shooting Sports Council (and its close buddy, the NRA) opposed legislation to mandate gun safety training, impose penalties for negligent storage of weapons and allow municipalities to pass laws regulating firearms in their local communities. I have no doubt that these same players will be pushing the 1996 Legislature to revoke the few conditions left for obtaining a concealed weapons permit.
The problem is, of course, that the gun lobby's tactics don't work. The answer to violence in our streets does not consist of making guns more easily accessible, especially concealed guns. That solution is a lot like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
If more guns meant more safety, our country would be the safest on Earth, with 250 million guns on the streets already. It isn't, of course. Our country is becoming more dangerous each year, as gun death statistics skyrocket. As the experience of other demo- cratic nations has shown, gun deaths and gun violence are reduced only when societies are willing to impose reasonable comprehensive national restrictions on the ownership and use of guns. These include background checks, waiting periods for gun purchases, strict restrictions for the issuance of permits to acquire and possess weapons, including concealed weapons, and stiff penalties for violation of firearms laws.
Contrary to Engen's assertions, the proliferation of concealed weapons on the streets of Utah will not make Utah a safer place to live. Instead, we can look forward to even more blood in our streets.
Randall K. Edwards