Government at all levels has an amazing ability to overreact in the wake of tragedy. Take the tragic triple-murder at a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City last week. A troubled employee killed three co-workers, injured five and then took his own life. It was later learned that the gunman had purchased the gun from a gun store in Jefferson City. But the controversy began when it was reported the gun was a former weapon used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol that had been traded to the store for an upgraded model. It's a practice used by countless other law enforcement agencies.
But in our quest for overreaction, state officials now want to review the policy on the disposition of outdated guns used by law enforcement. The way it now works, for example, is this: The Highway Patrol saves the state $500,000 annually by trading or selling outdated guns. The guns are then resold to the public.
It's naive to think that the tragedy in Jefferson City or elsewhere could be avoided by destroying the outdated guns used by law enforcement. Had that particular gun not been available, thousands upon thousands of others were available. All legally and all at the same price. So the simple assumption that we can decrease crime by destroying these outdated guns is just plain naive.
But first you have to understand how government works. Rarely is government pro-active. Instead government is traditionally reactive. We see a situation that we judge as wrong and thus we try to change it with legislation or policy revisions. But the issue of disposing of weapons has bred this overreaction. It may make the public feel warm and fuzzy but it will accomplish absolutely nothing.
Tragedies have and will continue to occur. That is the tragic nature of man and society. If we could remove all handguns, that would be a different story. But as we all know, that will never occur. So to single out these particular weapons as some sort of blame for the tragedy is just wrong.
There is nothing wrong with the practice of selling or trading outdated state property. The murders in Jefferson City would have occurred regardless. But to curry favor with the public, government officials are quick to seize the hot topic of the moment. This is one issue that should be a non-starter.