Congress Can Still Reform Gun Law

October 20, 1991

The House of Representatives once again put single-interest lobbyists before the people. A public already in favor of federal laws limiting access to assault weapons and other non-sporting, non-self-defense firearms was shocked into outrage by the mass murder in Killeen, Texas, this week. Yet the very next day, the House killed a proposal to ban certain (but not all) such weapons and a ban on large-capacity ammo clips that make mass murder such as in Killeen possible.

The National Rifle Association and other opponents of gun laws are not that powerful anymore, yet the House caved in to their pressure tactics. Recently in Congress, the NRA & Co. couldn't stop the Brady bill (a waiting period before purchasing certain firearms) in the House and they couldn't stop an assault-weapons ban (and handgun controls similar to Brady) in the Senate. A few years ago in Maryland, they couldn't stop a bill banning Saturday Night Specials and then lost a referendum by a landslide. In Baltimore City this year, they couldn't stop an ordinance requiring safeguards (cabinet or trigger locks) to keep loaded firearms out of the hands of minors.

Four Maryland representative showed profiles in cowardice during Thursday's House vote: Reps. Helen Bentley, Beverly Byron, Tom McMillen and Wayne Gilchrest. Mr. Gilchrest reneged on a previous statement, and Mr. McMillen has certainly implied in the past that he was for sensible gun control. These two men may have to compete for NRA contributions and support in a race against each other next year. Perhaps that explains it.

Yet the fact that the Eastern Shore-Anne Arundel district they may both soon reside in includes a lot of hunters does not explain it. Rep. Chet Edwards, whose largely rural district includes Killeen, used to oppose gun control. Not anymore. He said Thursday, "You don't need an Uzi to shoot quail in Central Texas." Must we wait for a Killeen-type tragedy in their districts for such an epiphany by Maryland's NRA-cowed representatives?

Such steps as restricting assault weapons and large-capacity clips and requiring safeguards to keep guns out of minors' hands cannot guarantee there won't be more senseless mass murders or accidents in homes or schools. Foes of gun laws who make this argument are right. But these restriction will reduce the number of deaths. If the madman in Killeen had had to re-load more often, some people who are dead today would be alive.

Most gun law reform follows national tragedies. With the memory of Killeen freshly in mind, the public must insist that its representatives in Washington reconsider this matter and enact a sensible gun-control law.

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