Killing 'em with consistency

Dan Rodricks

October 23, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Who says Congress is full of wimps? Who says our representatives are spineless political hacks who just go with the flow, whichever way the wind's blowing?

Not even the nation's worst mass killing could convince Congress to do something about controlling military-style assault weapons or, at least, the high-capacity ammo clips like the ones George Hennard used to tear up Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Doesn't it fill you with pride to know that, by a margin of 247-177, this country is represented by men and women of conviction, unswayed by emotional plea and fleeting hysteria?

Just a day after the horror of Killeen -- 23 dead, 17 wounded, and hundreds in shock -- the House trounced an attempt to ban ammunition magazines with more than seven rounds. At the same time, it killed legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of 13 types of weapons, such as the Uzi, Beretta, the Colt AR-15, the MAC-10 and the Ruger Mini-14. These are mostly military-class weapons. Domestically, they are used by drug dealers to protect their territories and by lunatics to shoot up playgrounds. (Actually, Patrick Purdy, who murdered five kids and wounded 30 others in Stockton, Calif., a couple of years ago, used a Chinese-made AK-47.)

The only wimp in the pack was Rep. Chet Edwards whose district includes Killeen. He looked at the mess George Hennard wrought with his Glock (17-shot magazine) and his Ruger P89 (15-shot magazine), and changed his mind about the gun measure. He voted for the ban. "I have been a consistent opponent of gun control in the past, but this terrible tragedy in my home district puts a new light on the issue," Chet said.

I can just hear the boys at the National Rifle Association now, as they draw a bead on ole Chet for the next election. They probably have kissed him off as a sissy who rolled over on the issue after a little nudge from home.

But the NRA can take heart. They've got plenty of friends in the House of Representatives, stout-hearted men and women who don't faint at the sight of blood. Some might have voted for the Brady bill last year -- it imposed a waiting period on handgun purchases -- but they came back to the pack this year.

Here in Maryland, the former professional basketball player, Tom McMillen, was among congressmen voting against the assault-rifle ban. The Sun called his vote -- and those of Reps. Helen Delich Bentley, Beverly Byron and Wayne Gilchrest -- cowardly.

Brad Fitch, of McMillen's staff, said yesterday he wished editorial writers at The Sun had contacted the congressman before they wrote that. They would have seen that, all along, McMillen has been an opponent of restrictions on assault-type weapons. And I gathered from what Fitch said that Tall Tom deserved a little pat on the back for his consistency.

It's true. McMillen voted for a large loophole in a ban on assault weapons just last year. He must be on the NRA's list of rising stars.

After Patrick Purdy used an AK-47 in the Stockton schoolyard, the Bush administration imposed a ban on the importation of foreign-made assault weapons. Taking up this matter last year, the House voted 257-172 to allow the domestic manufacture of )) semiautomatic assault rifles, as long as American-made parts were used.

And it just happens that 75 percent of assault-style weapons are manufactured in just that manner.

McMillen voted for the loophole, and his aide held that up yesterday as evidence of consistency on the issue. "Mr. McMillen is not in favor of an all-out ban on these weapons," Fitch said. The gun-control lobby, he said, has implied that assault-style weapons have "no value whatsoever when they have a variety of different uses."

And those different uses include hunting and collecting, Fitch said.

Of course, thousands of hunters will line up to tell you that weapons that spray bullets have no place in anything that a man considers sport. The nation pays a huge price for having these assault-style rifles available. They make killing easier for those bent on killing. They make Stockton and Killeen possible. So why not get rid of them?

Well, the aide to McMillen had an answer for that, too. They've discussed the matter with constitutional scholars. They've concluded that the Founding Fathers believed American citizens had a right to bear arms.

Which was fine when men needed 10 minutes to reload their muskets. It's not in the age of MAC-10.

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