Washington Post Columnist Laments Virginia and Maryland Didn’t Follow DC’s Example

The story below starts out like every other anti-gun news article. Tragedy strikes a peaceful family and in struggling with the reality of their loss they are moved to answer the questions of “why” and “how” they were the victims of criminal violence. Thankfully, in the land of emotional anecdotes, which is that magic kingdom of giant beanstalks and sugar plum fairies where Washington Post columnists draft their articles, the answers to such jarring questions are straightforward and the villains are always easily identified by their NRA caps:

Cox went to the Ward’s and spoke with the man who sold his wife the gun, telling the clerk that he bore him no ill will.

Ever since the shooting Cox’s mind had been a jumble of emotions. “Why?” he asked God. “Why?”

But then Cox turned his attention to a different question: How?

How had a mentally ill woman been able to walk into a store, buy a gun, then go home and destroy her family and herself?

Cox learned that a Virginia state delegate — Fairfax real estate broker Omer L. Hirst — had introduced legislation that included a 72-hour waiting period for firearms purchases. Among the aims of the legislation, Hirst explained, was “to provide a cooling off period in potential crimes of passion.”

Fairfax’s chief of police, William L. Durrer, supported the effort. “We’ve needed it for a long time,” he told The Post.

In fact, in the wake of the Cox shooting, Fairfax did enact rules similar to those being proposed in Richmond. This was a time when local jurisdictions could promulgate their own regulations regarding firearms. Fairfax’s ordinance prohibited minors, drug addicts, “drunkards,” violent criminals and those who had been instituted for mental illness from buying a handgun.

There also was a minimum three-day waiting period for gun buyers while the police department did a check. Alexandria had similar rules.

Hirst and other representatives from Northern Virginia wanted to solidify such measures in state law. Hearings were held throughout the area. Among the first to testify at one was Thomas Cox. “I wonder how many of you have gone home [and found your family shot to death],” he said, “just because we had no way of checking up on the buying of a gun.”

Others testified against the bill. “A disarmed people can never be free, nor can they defend their freedom,” said a man named Col. E.L. Black.

A provision that Fairfax gun owners would have to register their guns prompted one woman to say, “Communists are in favor of firearms registrations.”

Similar bills were being introduced elsewhere in our area. On the very day of the Cox shootings, the Evening Star had a front-page story about pro-gun control legislators in Maryland who had received threatening phone calls. Someone called the home of Del. Leonard S. Blondes and warned he would be “bumped off” if he did not drop his bill.

“What really concerns me is that the type of persons who would make such threatening phone calls are exactly the type that should not be allowed to buy guns without controls and screening,” Blondes told the Star.

In 1968 the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments unveiled a set of model gun control laws it encouraged local governments to adopt. In addition to waiting periods, the suggestions included gun registration and gun licenses.

In the end, only the District passed the laws. By 1971, a headline in The Post read “Gun Control Has Become Forgotten Issue in Area.”

In 1987, after lobbying by the National Rifle Association and other groups, the Virginia legislature passed an act prohibiting counties, cities or towns from enacting any new ordinance governing the purchase or possession of firearms. In 2004, the legislation was amended to prohibit enforcement of any existing ordinances.

The measures that had been adopted in Fairfax as a direct result of the Cox family tragedy were swept away.”

For John Kelly at the Post I suppose the moral of the story is simple: “If only those damned pro-gun people would respect human life and listen to reason then lives could be saved.”  Notice that he drops a sweet little reference to a gun proponent connecting firearms registration with communism—a tidbit intended to cast pro-gun activists as paranoid nutjobs. You know, the sort of people who would have cheered on the Left’s ultimate bogeyman, Senator Joe McCarthy, as he humiliated left-leaning intellectuals and celebrities. Then there is the police chief who argues that there is a real need for waiting periods even though no evidence is cited or referenced to support his claim. I suppose simply having a badge makes you an authority of criminology and civil liberties issues.

Of course Mr. Kelly conveniently forgets to mention that DC’s crime rate soared after it implemented the sort of draconian gun laws that liberals like Mr. Kelly seem to favor. Just as it slipped his mind to reference the disastrous public safety consequences of DC’s gun control disaster, I suppose he honestly forgot that there is zero empirical evidence to demonstrate waiting periods have any measurable effect on crime. But what about the poor Cox family?! As tragic as that event was back in 1964, a single case does not provide  firm evidence upon which to base any sort of reasonable conclusion about the efficacy of a law or policy. After all, maybe the absence of a waiting period has served to save some lives along the way as well. There are certainly plenty of examples of people who tried to buy a gun for personal protection only to encounter a waiting period that left them needlessly exposed to danger. Consider the case of Bonnie Elmasri:

On March 5, 1991 Bonnie Elmasri called a firearms instructor, worried that her husband-who was subject to a restraining order to stay away from her-had been threatening her and her children. When she asked the instructor about getting a handgun, the instructor explained that Wisconsin has a 48-hour waiting period. Ms. Elmasri and her two children were murdered by her husband twenty-four hours later.


About the Author

I'm a political analyst by vocation, but not of the sort of politics I'm looking at on this site. Having had the good fortune of experiencing a number of foreign countries, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the USA is the only place for me. Although it may not seem like it sometimes, this country is still the freest, and hence the greatest on Earth. However, I worry that some of the rights and freedoms I value are under threat, so I started this site to blow off some steam and air some of my views in the hope of starting a conversation with other people out there. I'd love to hear what you think about my ideas even if you don't agree with them.