Arms are becoming to much to bear

Tom Teepen

March 08, 1993|By Tom Teepen

AMERICANS threw off the tyranny of George III. The tyranny of the National Rifle Association is proving a little harder to shake, but there are encouraging signs.

If you sense an edge of hysteria creeping into the rantings of the NRA, it is because this once most mighty of lobbies is beginning to suffer some heretofore unthinkable losses. It fears -- accurately, if the rest of us are lucky -- that the tide is turning against it.

Oh, the NRA is still winning some, but often at the cost of a widening public revulsion. Look at Arizona.

A number of cities there enacted ordinances that say kids must have written permission from their parents to carry guns. Seems reasonable to most folks, but the NRA is pushing for a substitute state law that would wipe out the local laws and, although sounding similar to them, is as much loophole as substance.

And look what it has done in Georgia.

The NRA had tolerated laws in other states that hold parents criminally accountable if their kids shoot someone with a gun left carelessly around the house, but the lobby apparently has now thought better of that.

It activated its moles in the Georgia legislature to quash a similar proposal this year. An NRA lobbyist now says such laws should cover razor blades, Valium and car keys, too. (Yes, he really said that.)

It was just such weird notions, just such a fixation, to use the president's term, that Bill Clinton recently deplored in the NRA.

Increasingly, political leaders are willing to stand up to the incessant bullying of the NRA.

Mr. Clinton has urged Congress to enact the Brady Bill, which would establish a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns.

And Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, and the state's legislature, recently faced down the NRA to enact a law that limits buyers to one handgun purchase a month, unless they get formal permission from the state police to buy more.

NRA sent in its big money and full-time lobbyists -- at one point even characterizing the issue as a potential "Armageddon" -- but the bill was supported by every Virginia law-enforcement organization and every newspaper.

Appalled by rising gun violence in Virginia and by the state's reputation as the armorer of the Eastern seaboard's criminal classes, the public finally said, "Enough."

A pattern seems to be taking shape.

The NRA, losing out with the public, must rely ever more on its kept politicians to continue preventing the introduction of what Mr. Clinton called "some safety and some rationality" into firearms policy and law.

In New Jersey, for instance, NRA piggybacked on an anti-tax wave last year and shoveled $250,000 to Republican legislative candidates who are now dutifully trying to overturn the state's ban on semiautomatic assault weapons.

The repeal may succeed, but if it does, it is questionable how many New Jersey residents will be grateful to the NRA for the return of assault weapons to their stores.

A fed-up citizenry may take a while to throw out entrenched influence, but in a democracy the eventual outcome is not in doubt. You could ask George III.

Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox News Service.

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