Scattershot solutions to gun violence

Both Florida and Boston want to deter gun violence. In Florida, where one of 49 people has a gun permit, a new law allows anyone to shoot intruders without first trying to retreat. Boston aims to end the flow of illegal guns into the city.

The debates over different approaches to gun violence aren't confined to America, of course. Many other nations, influenced in part by the US problem and its various solutions, are looking for the best course to take against a rising number of gun killings.

Last week, for instance, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin took a radical step by vowing to ban all private handguns (except those owned by regulated target shooters and collectors). Now on the campaign trail for his Liberal Party in a tough reelection bid, Mr. Martin was reacting to an upsurge of gun violence, notably some 50 killings this year in Toronto - mostly of black males. "This is not the Canada we imagined," he said.

Martin would also hire more officers to restrict the flow of guns (coming mainly from the US), offer an amnesty and a gun-buyback program, and double sentences for key gun crimes.

Britain, too, has been nudged into the gun debate by the threat of terrorists, increasing gun crime, and a number of shootings of police officers. Ben Johnson, a transplanted Texan who's working as a police officer in Reading, England, has helped spur the debate by threatening to quit his job if he isn't issued a gun to enable him to both defend himself and capture (or kill) criminals. Only about 4 percent of bobbies are now armed.

Of these diverse situations, however, Boston's plight offers the most insight on tactics that haven't worked, and ones that might.

Last month, the city's mayor, Thomas Menino, announced an all-out "war" on the trafficking of illegal firearms into the city. His city has so far seen a 33 percent rise in criminal shootings over last year, and the number of seized firearms is up by a third. He wants a "handgun summit" in New England to stem the cross-border gun traffic. He even suggests random searches of vehicles entering Massachusetts.

Mr. Menino's solution is quite a switch from Boston's effective efforts during the past decade, when the city did stem a surge of murders. Back then, the city's clergy, social activists, and police worked closely together to deal with almost every cause for gun violence. The effort paid off with far fewer killings by 1999. But that "Boston Miracle" coalition has since drifted apart. Sustaining it was always difficult, and now Menino wisely plans to zero in on guns themselves. Police will work with federal and state investigators to interrogate anyone caught carrying an illegal firearm. The weapon's history will be uncovered, and prosecutors will try to make a case against arms dealers who break laws in selling such firearms. That chain of gun dealing needs to be broken with stricter antigun laws by all governments.

Boston, like many big cities, needs help to mop up illegal guns. Finding solutions that actually work nationwide, and even in other lands, requires a determined focus on illegal guns themselves.

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