Pass the Crime Bill Now

July 11, 1991

After watching fireworks in the New York harbor on the Fourth of July, Rhona Lantin, 26, of Silver Spring, went to Chinatown with friends. As they drove along, gang members on the sidewalk pulled guns and began firing at each other. Ms. Lantin's car was caught in the crossfire. She was hit and killed.

Tuesday evening here, six-year-old Tiffany Smith was playing on the sidewalk in her Walbrook neighborhood. Two men began blazing away at each other. She was hit and killed.

A few hours earlier, a woman whose name has not yet been released by police was driving her three children on North Capitol Street in Washington. Suddenly they were in the middle of a car chase in which the pursuer fired 15 to 20 shots at the pursued with a semi-automatic weapon. The woman was hit and killed.

A famous tourist locale, a quiet Baltimore residential neighborhood, a busy street in the shadow of the Capitol. There are no safe streets any more.

Several blocks from the car-chase homicide, meanwhile, the Senate was trying to pass a comprehensive crime package that among other things would make it more difficult for gangsters to get certain weapons, would make the penalties for violent criminal acts more severe and more certain, and would provide law enforcement agencies at all levels with money to fight crime.

Yesterday, the Senate was denied the chance to vote on the bill by a reckless gang of Republican filibusterers. This is probably the most "conservative" -- pro-law enforcement -- crime bill to have the support of a majority of the Senate in many years. Maybe ever. Incredibly, 36 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted against ending debate and voting the crime bill up or down.

Why? They hope that delay will kill it. Why would they want to kill it? Because it includes among its many provisions a modified version of the Brady bill (a waiting period for handgun purchasers) and restrictions on assault-style weapons. The National Rifle Association and its servants in Congress can't stand the thought of this. They would give up all the other tough anti-crime measures in the package to kill the Brady bill.

The NRA has always been selfish and narrow-minded. Now it is hysterical. It has lost so many battles -- from the Saturday night special referendum here to the recent veto of a NRA-backed bill in New Jersey -- it is willing to put saving face above fighting crime. There is no reason the party of Ronald Reagan (who endorses the Brady bill) should support the NRA on this. The House has already passed a somewhat similar bill. A majority of the Senate favors this bill. Responsible Republicans unafraid of the NRA should vote today to end the filibuster and let the Senate do its job.

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