OPINION | DANA KELLEY: A primary problem

The mass shooting in Kansas City, Mo., last Wednesday during a Super Bowl victory rally for the hometown Chiefs gives great insight into a primary problem regarding gun crime in America.

It's not too many guns. It's not assault weapons. It's not unregulated gun sales at shows. It's not the Second Amendment. It's not a lack of gun control laws.

As details continue to emerge from investigators in Kansas City, the problem at the parade is also the problem across America: too many illegally armed criminals milling around in public who are too eager to pull their guns.

Faced with already widespread illegal activity by people who flout existing laws, passing additional laws that make it "more illegal" is misguided and ineffective.

Congress, the Missouri legislature and the Kansas City municipal government could all pass a whole passel of new gun-restriction laws, and the lawbreakers who instigated and perpetrated last week's shooting wouldn't be fazed one bit.

The final analysis isn't in yet on the incident that left one woman dead and 22 others wounded (half of which were under 16) by a volley of gunfire, but it looks like there wasn't a legal gun in the bunch. At least one of the 9mm handguns used has been confirmed as stolen.

Only two adults have been charged so far, but prosecutors have pledged to track down and "hold every shooter accountable for their actions on that day--every single one." Two unnamed minor teenagers were charged with gun-related offenses the day after the parade (federal law prohibits the possession of a handgun or handgun ammunition by anyone under age 18).

Details are still scarce regarding the criminal or juvenile records of most of those involved. However, the 23-year-old suspect who reportedly brandished his weapon first had been on probation the past two years for ... drum roll ... pulling a gun in another crowded public venue. He wasn't even a week past his release from probation when he carried an illegal gun to Union Station on Valentine's Day.

On one hand, the parade shooting was particularly tragic because of the way it unfolded among large throngs of rally-goers. But it was also tragic in a broader sense, because last Wednesday was just business as usual in metro Kansas City for gun crime.

Besides Lisa Lopez-Galvan, the fatality at the parade, seven other people--three of them 22 or younger--were shot and killed during the week of Feb. 12-16 in Kansas City.

Just after midnight on Monday, a woman with a gunshot wound was found lying on a sidewalk near an intersection. She died at the scene. The man charged with her murder is also charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.

Around 2 a.m. on Monday, an argument broke out after a non-injury car crash that escalated into a shooting. Two men died, and police believe both victims were firing shots.

On Tuesday, two separate shootings at an apartment complex and a residence left two men dead.

A Thursday night social gathering turned into a deadly shooting that left two people dead and one injured.

The armed killers in last week's shootings in Kansas City hardly appear to be constitutional "Right to Bear Arms" types. Indications are they are exactly the opposite: criminals who casually ignore gun laws, and who routinely discount and disregard the life, liberty and constitutional rights of others.

The public-policy irony on the gun-crime issue has become unacceptably deplorable. The large majority of gun-crime perpetrators are a tiny percentage of the population, mostly concentrated in an even more tiny portion of urban counties. But the outcry among activists is for nationwide laws aimed mainly at hundreds of millions of citizens who will never commit gun crimes.

The reality is gun crime is not widespread in America, but it gets widespread news coverage.

Consider this startling statistic: 15 counties out of 3,124 account for 25 percent of all gun homicides in the U.S. That means one out of four gun murders occurs within the confines of four ten-thousandths of our nation's counties, in which only 0.8 percent of the population resides.

That also means targeting only those worst 15 counties with successful policies could disproportionately diminish our gun-crime rates and carnage. Expand targeted efforts to, say, a select 100 counties (still barely 3 percent of all counties) and national stats could fall dramatically. Thousands of lives could be saved.

Another alarming gun-crime stat: Two out of three gun-crime offenders wind up getting re-arrested, a U.S. Sentencing Commission study of 25,000 federal offenders found. And in a stark departure from non-firearm criminals, whose misbehavior dwindles as they age, 40 percent of firearm offenders released from prison after age 50 were re-arrested--twice the rate for non-gun criminals.

The study also found that re-arrests happened faster for firearm offenders, and for more serious crimes.

Even worse, those nationwide averages would multiply by leaps and bounds when narrowed to the highest-crime counties and ZIP codes.

That's where the public-policy focus must change. The primary key to reining in gun crime is recidivism.

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

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