Gun control measure moves to the House Crucial vote: Maryland's House representatives must support U.S. Senate's firearms bill.

June 08, 1999

NEWS FROM the Balkans may have moved the Columbine shootings off Page One, but Americans and their elected representatives must work for another kind of cease-fire at home. The urgency of finding a way to make guns safer was demonstrated again last weekend in Baltimore when a 3-year-old child was wounded, apparently while playing with his father's loaded pistol.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has promised to give quick consideration to a Senate-passed bill that would require trigger locks on pistols. It would also close an outrageous loophole in current law governing gun sales. Even more radical action is needed, but passing the Senate provisions would be a useful start.

States currently check the mental health and criminal backgrounds of those who wish to buy guns at gun shops. But purchasers at gun shows don't face similar review -- and some 5,000 of these shows take place every year in the United States. Only after the students and a teacher died at Colorado's Columbine High did the Senate agree to impose the same requirement on gun-show purchasers. The Senate bill -- which passed by a single vote -- also bans the import of large-capacity ammunition clips. Maryland's two senators voted "aye." Now its eight House members should, too.

Democrats have been eager to seize the political initiative in this matter. Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, for example, attempted 10 days ago to use the momentum of Columbine and a subsequent school shooting in Conyers, Ga., by offering the Senate gun-safety legislation as an amendment to the Treasury and postal appropriations bill. But Mr. Hastert and other House Republican leaders pulled that measure to avoid losing control over the issue entirely.

Long an opponent of gun-control laws, Mr. Hastert has indicated post-Columbine sympathy for laws that might make it more difficult for the angry, immature, deranged and criminally disqualified to buy a weapon. Maryland's most reliable gun-control opponents -- Republican Reps. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Roscoe G. Bartlett -- would be well advised to support their speaker.

They should also step up to fight off -- and certainly not support -- likely efforts by the National Rifle Association to weaken the Senate bill.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's call for a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into the marketing of guns to juveniles is the sort of leadership this issue demands.

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