I know I’m a few days late, but may I please be the one who gets to pry the gun from his cold, dead hands?

Charlton HestonForgive me if I decline to mourn last weekend’s passing of Charlton Heston. He was an occasionally decent, often ridiculous and altogether overrated actor. He marched with Dr. King and he headed the Screen Actors Guild, but then he wound up a despicable figure after marching the NRA into Denver for a national convention not a month after the Columbine shootings. Still, as I pondered this column’s publication date, which arrives about midway between the moment he shuffled off this moral coil and a certain upcoming, unhappy anniversary, I couldn’t help but mentally morph Heston’s chiseled visage into the face of this guy:

Seung-Hui ChoI’ll have much more to say next week about Seung-Hui Cho’s visitation of evil upon my hometown of Blacksburg, Va., last April 16. For now, I’ll say one thing about him: Without the Walther P-22 semiautomatic he bought over the Internet in February 2007; without the Glock 19 semiautomatic he casually picked up at a Roanoke gun dealer a month later (so much for the efficacy of Virginia’s one-a-month law); and without those 17 magazines of bullets (many of them hollow-point to allow for extra carnage)…

…without all that weaponry, Cho would have been just another loony toon hanging around the Virginia Tech dorms, and 32 innocent students and faculty would still be alive today.

Just as 6-year-old Chalris Fleming Jr. of Memphis would still be with us had he and a little friend not stumbled upon a loaded revolver while playing in an apartment bedroom last month. Instead, he became one of the nearly 1,000 Americans who will be killed accidentally by a firearm this year.

Here come the usual excuses: But Cho was insane, and the various authorities didn’t share information that might have turned up in a background check… and the owner of that revolver in Memphis (a 19-year-old who was in the next room at the time of the accident) should have put a lock on it, or at least left it unloaded… and anyway, more kids drown every year than are killed by firearms, so why don’t we ban swimming pools?… guns don’t kill people, people kill people…

And my new favorite: …if only some of those Tech students had been packing heat, too, one of them could have taken Cho out before he did so much damage.

The National Rifle Association was built on such excuses – and about $200 million in annual revenues. They’ve got an excuse for any type of gun death you can imagine, and will say anything they can think of to negate the relationship between laws that make it way too easy to obtain handguns and our obscenely high gun-death rates.

They’ll dream up fake statistics, such as a currently prevalent claim that Australian gun violence has increased dramatically since the enactment of strict gun-control laws in the late 1990s. (In fact, “illegal gun use” has risen dramatically since then – because a number of activities that were legal in 1997 are illegal today – but the overall number of gun-related murders and other firearm deaths is down dramatically.)

They’ll conflate overall crime statistics in other countries with those for gun-related crimes, to make U.S. gun permissiveness appear less lethal than it really is.

And they’ll credit increased firearm safety regulations in recent years with preventing some accidental gun deaths, particularly among children – as though any number higher than zero is acceptable, much less the 125 or so kids (estimating conservatively) who will die that way this year, safety locks or no safety locks.

One of the few statistics that truly matter is the comparison of American gun-related-murder rates to those of other industrialized nations with strict gun-control laws. For example, the U.S. gun murder rate is 8 times the size of Canada’s (and nearly 15 times higher when only handgun murders are measured), 16 times Australia’s, 40 times the U.K.’s, and about 80 times Japan’s.

John KerryStill, such statistics are rendered meaningless by one other number: the NRA’s lobbying budget of at least $35 million annually, along with tens of millions more dollars with which the organization can bludgeon pro-gun control candidates each election season. The result – particularly after NRA efforts were seen as a key to Al Gore’s defeat in 2000 – has been the near-complete disappearance of gun control as an issue on the national political stage. Sen. Obama has been almost completely silent on gun issues over the past year, while Sen. Clinton – who in 2000 responsibly supported a proposal to license handgun owners and create a national registry of handgun sales and transfers – this year has rejected such laws and has pandered to the pro-gun crowd by touting supposed childhood hunting expeditions (presumably not in Bosnia) and bragging that she once “killed a duck.”

Of course, even sticking their heads in the sand (or parading around in hunting fatigues, like John Kerry did in 2004) only gets the Democrats so far, because there will always be some moron like Ted Nugent around to wave machine guns in the air and threaten them:

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Ah, the wit and intellect of gun nuts!

Sometime around the end of June, the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, a case challenging Washington, DC’s citywide ban on handguns. It will be the first Court opinion in 70 years to directly address the scope of the Second Amendment — and considering the current conservative makeup of the court, the District’s chances of preserving the ban aren’t good.

I know I’m going out on a far-left fringe here, but I’d respectfully suggest that if we must choose between the two, we should keep the handgun ban and ditch the Second Amendment. It is, to be sure, our Constitution’s all-too-often fatal flaw.