Opinion * Commentary trol activists, believing

May 14, 1999

Opinion * Commentary trol activists, believing that the Littleton, Colo., school shooting tragedy might at last arouse Congress to toughen gun laws, have been knocked back on their heels in the wake of the Senate's vote to reject tightened procedures for sales at gun shows.

The 51-47 vote against the Democratic proposal, and the subsequent passage by 53-45 of a Republican version making background checks on buyers from unlicensed gun dealers merely voluntary, jolted the anti-gun lobby at a time its leaders hoped the clout of the National Rifle Association and its allies might at last be slipping on Capitol Hill.

Robert Walker, president of Handgun Control Inc., a leading anti-gun group, called the vote "extraordinarily disappointing" and accused the NRA of hypocrisy in light of its position expressed earlier in the week that it might support such checks provided no records were retained by any federal agency.

The GOP version, an amendment to a pending juvenile crime bill, was sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho, who is a member of the NRA board. He argued successfully that nearly all dealers at gun shows are licensed and hence already obliged by federal law to make background checks to prevent sales to convicted felons. Sales by unlicensed dealers, he said, were "private" transactions and should not be subject to federal regulation.

But Mr. Walker said that under a provision of the Craig amendment, "kitchen table dealers" -- unlicensed sellers who customarily don't own gun stores but simply operate out of their homes -- will be able to go into any state and sell at gun shows, "enormously compromising" the ability of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to prevent sales to criminals.

Another provision, Mr. Walker said, would open what he called "the pawn shop loophole," which would enable criminals who have pawned a gun to reclaim it later without a background check, as now required under federal law.

erate control proposals, has called on the Senate to reconsider. He said he can't understand "why they passed up this chance to save lives" and that there was "simply no excuse for letting criminals get arms at gun shows they can't get at gun stores." Once again the NRA has demonstrated its powerful influence on Congress.

The Senate vote dashes cold water on recent speculation that serious breaches were undermining the gun lobby, after some gun manufacturers and sport-shooting groups attended a White House conference on youth violence and indicated they might support some new gun restrictions. The NRA itself was not invited and vowed to hold the line against further gun regulation.

trol proposals being pushed in the wake of the Colorado shootings, including mandating child safety locks on guns, enforcing parental responsibility for keeping guns from children and raising the age for buying a handgun from 18 to 21, still face uphill fights against the NRA's determined opposition.

The tremendous publicity focused on the Colorado tragedy led to widespread editorial and public demands around the country for an answer to the nation's gun madness. The Senate's first answer was a dismissive shrug.

ton Bureau.

ville, Va. Thanks to a distant cousin, Lucian K. Truscott IV, a best-selling author and an association member, my family was formally invited by the association -- for the first time -- to attend the annual reunion of descendants of the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson. As guests, not as members.

scendant of Jefferson, a fact I have known since I was 12 years old.

The clarity and certainty with which I know my progenitor is easy to understand. My relatives have kept copious records for years, including Bibles dating back a century, daguerreotypes of grandparents and detailed genealogical charts.

ond" family. That is, from his 38-year relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, the half-sister of Jefferson's deceased wife, Martha.

Second, oral history is not considered "legitimate" by historians. But the documentation required by today's historians was illegal in 1790, when Thomas Woodson, my great, great, great, great grandfather, was born. He was Hemings' first child fathered by Jefferson.

My journey to the reunion is in part an attempt to achieve my father's dying wish to be buried at Monticello.

My father, Robert Cooley III, a judge and decorated Vietnam veteran, died suddenly last July at age 58, two weeks after asserting on network television that he wanted to be laid to rest there alongside his ancestors. I contacted the Monticello Association and requested that his wish be honored, particularly given the almost decade-long commitment and national attention he brought to Heming's relationship with Jefferson.

The request was denied in part because association officials said they did not have DNA evidence linking Hemings' descendants to Jefferson.

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