Violence in America

April 30, 1991

America anguished during the Persian Gulf crisis over the possibility that many of its men and women would return home from that conflict in body bags. Yet, public debate rarely focuses on the fact that every day, in this country, almost 65 Americans get put in body bags -- casualties of the crisis in our streets.

A new FBI report documents a staggering degree of carnage: In 1990, the FBI found, approximately 23,600 Americans were murdered; more than 100,000 American women were raped, 642,000 Americans were robbed and more than 1 million were victims of aggravated assault. Worse, violent crime is increasing; the newest numbers represent the biggest rise in murder, rape, robbery and assault since 1986.

Sadly, America has now become a more dangerous place than virtually any other industrialized country -- more violent, indeed, than almost any other place outside a war zone. And the violence is widespread: Though one-quarter of all murders last year occurred in cities, for example, the biggest jump in murder rates -- 21 percent -- was in towns with fewer than 10,000 people.

The causes of the escalating violence in America are many and complex. But one thing links them: firearms. More than 60 percent of the murders in this country involve firearms, as do a high percentage of other violent crimes. Guns clearly are not the cause of crime, but certainly they fuel the fires of violence.

Thus the newest FBI statistics should be a powerful argument for Congress to pass the Brady bill, which would require a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases during which police can run background checks on potential buyers. In no way does this modest proposal infringe on even the most liberal interpretation of Second Amendment rights.

This is not the first time the Brady bill has gone before Congress. Last year, largely as a result of strong-arming by the National Rifle Association, Congress failed to pass a similar measure. Next week, the House votes again. Only one member of Maryland's delegation -- Rep. Beverly Byron, D-6th -- is not solidly behind the measure. The gravity of the new FBI statistics, however, ought to be enough to make Maryland's vote unanimous.

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