Bullets and bananas

Gail Collins

April 23, 1993|By Gail Collins

BULLETS THE size of bananas!" cries Rep. Charles Schumer.

Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat, has been carrying on like this ever since the siege in Waco, Texas, began and he discovered that David Koresh was the proud possessor of a .50-caliber machine-gun.

"Have you seen what that gun shoots? Bullets-the-size-of-bananas!"

Sure, the Branch Davidians had other weapons: an arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns, pistols and semiautomatic rifles. But Texas gun laws being what they are, it is possible that the stockpile was totally legal.

A compound full of kids and a cache of pistols and military-style rifles. Completely kosher. No wonder the rest of the industrialized world thinks we are off our rocker.

Schumer was on the way to a news conference, banana-sized bullet in hand, to argue that the best response to the Waco disaster would be passage of the Brady Bill.

"We can do all the second-guessing we want. But the governmental blame is on our gun law," he said.

Our nation's capital generally takes about an hour to mutate the worst possible tragedy into something political. A day after Koresh and his followers died at Waco, congressmen were falling all over each other in an effort to schedule the first hearing on What Went Wrong.

The answer, they will discover, is that the FBI does not know how to handle heavily armed, paranoid, egomaniac cult leaders.

And that is no minor defect, given the number of paranoid, egomaniac cult leaders sitting on large piles of weaponry in this country.

"Marion, Utah," cited Schumer, paging through his list of cult shootouts. "Thirteen-day standoff with a fundamentalist Mormon polygamy sect. Thirteen assault rifles. Officer killed, FBI agent wounded.

"Ruby Ridge, Idaho -- one U.S. marshal killed in shootout with heavily armed members of the Aryan Nation. Median, North Dakota -- two U.S. marshals killed trying to arrest the leader of Posse Comitatus, a right-wing paramilitary group."

These, of course, are just the group activities, far less common than the armed loony loner.

On the day of the Waco fire, a man in Sacramento, Calif., opened fire in a downtown library, killing two librarians after muttering something about his wife. On the same day, a young security guard described by his neighbors as "troubled" shot down an elderly pedestrian in Washington.

Cops believe that particular gunman is the Shotgun Stalker, who has been driving around residential neighborhoods and targeting passers-by like so many clay pigeons.

These are not the evil drug dealers and teen-age gangs, folks. These are crazy people with guns. We are putting weapons of death in the hands of people you would not trust with your lawn mower. And the government remains more concerned with curbing gun-enforcement agents than gun sellers.

Check out our federal gun regulations and you would think the purchase of a pistol was a sacred rite, deserving a level of confidentiality equal to the seal of the confessional.

A sense of balance is what's required here, folks. Even if gun regulation does nothing at all to reduce the murder rate, it should improve our sense of self-respect.

Gail Collins writes for Newsday.

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