Bias father joins campaign to 'wake up' against guns

December 08, 1990|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Three days after his son was cut down by bullets at a Prince George's County mall, James Bias joined with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson yesterday in announcing a national effort to curb guns and violence, saying, "This is the time to act."

"This is my son this time; it could be yours next time," said James Bias, whose 20-year-old son, James "Jay" Bias, was shot dead with a semiautomatic pistol Tuesday following an argument outside Prince George's Plaza in Landover. "Everybody has no right to have a gun."

In an impassioned appeal to an anti-gun conference here, Mr. Bias -- whose oldest son, basketball star Len Bias, died from a 1986 cocaine overdose -- urged Congress to pass gun-control legislation.

"When you buy a gun, you buy it for the purpose of killing. We want to stop the flow of guns," said Mr. Bias, 47, of Landover, who also accused Hollywood of breeding violence among the young. "Rambo . . . look at what he's portraying as being all right. When they get the opportunity, they act it out. You've got to wake up here. This is the time to act."

"I have to leave here," he said, his voice cracking, "and go and bury my son."

As he left the dais, Mr. Bias was surrounded by well-wishers, including members of other families who had lost relatives to gun deaths. "My son was killed five weeks ago, so I know what you're going through," one man told him quietly.

"Maybe the Jay Bias death will have an effect on the gun question," Mr. Jackson said, adding that details of the national effort would be unveiled Tuesday. Mr. Jackson said the campaign would urge Congress to pass gun-control legislation and would work toward non-violence.

The conference, organized by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an umbrella organization of religious, political and civic groups, came on the 10th anniversary of the shooting death of former Beatle John Lennon. Since then, some 200,000 Americans have been killed with handguns, said the coalition.

Michael Beard, coalition president, said that despite a downturn in drug use, shooting deaths continued. "The guns are still there," he said. "They are going to continue to be on the streets."

Mr. Beard challenged House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., to schedule an early vote on stalled gun-control legislation when Congress convenes in January. Legislation that failed to come up for a vote in the last Congress includes a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns and a ban on domestically-made assault weapons.

"I urge our Congress: Assume some leadership," said Mr. Jackson.

"I don't think there's a lack of leadership," Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, who made a brief appearance at the conference, said later. He said Mr. Foley failed to call for a vote on the handgun waiting

period because there was little chance it would pass the Senate.

"There was no reason to put [lawmakers] through a difficult vote when there was no chance for it passing in the Senate," said Mr. Hoyer, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. Still, he predicted the gun-control legislation would come up for a vote as early as March.

Representative Pete Stark, D-Calif., who took part in the conference, said he was hopeful Congress would vote on the measures, but he conceded that the gun lobby wields enormous clout on Capitol Hill. "You have cowardly legislators," he said. "Millions of dollars they don't want spent against them."

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