There were 50 people murdered in Pulaski County last year — 41 in Little Rock, six in North Little Rock and three in the county. It’s not a record (76 were killed in 1993) but it’s higher than usual and scary that it’s going to rise.
Why shouldn’t we expect a lot more murders this year based on some of the awful crimes the day before Christmas and six out of seven days in the New Year? A 17-year-old kid was shot to death in his back yard on Christmas Eve by what the police believe were three kids, and on Christmas a 37-year-old man was killed outside his apartment on Base Line Road.
On Jan. 9, a 21-year-old man was killed by three young people who broke into his house. On Jan. 11, a 21-year-old woman with four babies was killed in an apartment in a housing project. On Jan. 12, two elderly men were killed in a house near UALR. On Jan.13, a 28-year-old man was shot and killed when he broke into a mobile home. And on Sunday, a 19-year-old boy was found dead on the side of the road near a trailer park from a gunshot wound in his head.
Sgt. Terry Hastings of the Little Rock Police Department said he had been a policeman for 30 years but had never seen six homicides in seven days. Doesn’t it seem a bad time for Pulaski County to fire 27 patrolmen and Little Rock police to be operating 67 officers short? Hearing about the slayings, Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley told a Democrat-Gazette reporter that he was amazed: “What are 15-year-old kids, or for that matter 19-year-old kids, doing out there with guns?” he said. “I mean, what’s wrong with this picture?”
The answer is easy, Mr. Jegley — Arkansas has almost no laws concerning the selling of pistols. It’s as easy to buy one as it is a shirt.
If you buy a pistol at a gun store, you have to be 21 years old. You have to fill out a three-page form, and a store employee has to call the U.S. Department of Justice, which will look through records to see if the buyer “has been convicted of a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could have imprisoned the person for more than one year, or who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
Buster Gavin, who sells guns at Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in North Little Rock, says that it takes anywhere from five minutes to three days for a customer to get his gun. Nine out of 10 customers get the okay. Stores can’t sell more than two handguns at a time, and most of them don’t sell many Saturday night specials because their admirers won’t pay what most gun stores charge, which is at least $100.
So where do people in Arkansas who might want to shoot someone get pistols? Many say that foreign companies ship them to Americans who order them. Some also say that a few illegal immigrants coming to the United States bring handguns and sell them on the streets. Burglars usually look for guns to take away to sell. For years pistols have been sold by individuals at Arkansas gun shows without any reporting to either the national or state government. There’s a rumor that this is going to change, but I doubt it. Actually, the easiest way to get a cheap, unregistered pistol is to read the classified ads in almost any newspaper. Last Sunday’s Democrat-Gazette had 12 ads selling handguns.
Now many states don’t allow any of this. They can put you in jail if you have any kind of a handgun and don’t register it. Many states, including California, require you to be trained to use a handgun after you have bought one. Maryland and several states will not allow anyone to sell a handgun unless it has an external, child-safety loading device. Most states won’t allow you to carry a pistol in a car unless you have registered it. Connecticut will not allow anyone to acquire a handgun without a thorough, eight-week investigation.
While Arkansas has a small population, 6.4 percent of its violent crimes are murders, according to the FBI’s 2003 crime report. The percentage of murder in Texas, which is 10 times the population of Arkansas, is the same 6.4 percent. And only 11 other states have greater percentages of murder than Arkansas and Texas.
In Arkansas, there are 32,000 members of the National Rifle Association, which opposes any laws to prevent the owning of any guns. Its real interest, of course, is hunting, which, of course, is mostly done with rifles and shotguns, and its members surely know that few people care about having strict laws for hunting guns. Yet the NRA refuses to make that distinction and continues to lobby for no gun rules in every state and the District of Columbia.
Arkansas’s mayors, aldermen and legislators ought to think about nearly one murder every day in Little Rock and pass some laws that might save the lives of some people.