Rethinking Gun Laws - Once Again Lawmakers in Several States Delay Bills; Clinton Asks for Tighter

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As the community of Littleton, Colo., endures a long week of mourning, it is becoming clear that the latest in a too-long string of school shootings may have a profound effect on the way the nation views guns.

For whatever reason - the number of victims, the firepower of the assailants, a sense that enough is finally enough - the Columbine High tragedy has already affected gun ownership legislation in a way that previous such shootings did not.

While it is unclear if this trend will amount to anything more than a temporary setback to the National Rifle Association's long effort to relax gun laws nationwide, public sentiment in some areas is ahead of gun-control advocates. They're scrambling to back antigun efforts that just a week ago seemed doomed. "We weren't ready," says Colorado Senate minority leader Mike Feeley (D). "We were playing defense and all of a sudden people are saying, enough." Senator Feeley himself lives just miles from Columbine High School. At minimum, he predicts, the tragedy there will put efforts to ease gun restrictions on hold. "For now we need to do no more harm, no more relaxation of gun laws," he says. The Colorado Legislature itself has already made a 180-degree turnabout. Two bills to loosen gun ownership laws were pulled by sponsors within a day after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris attacked their school carrying at least two shotguns, a semiautomatic assault pistol, and a handgun. Sponsors of the Colorado effort to pass a so-called conceal-carry bill, which would allow gun owners greater freedom to carry hidden handguns, may now wait until 2001 to bring the legislation back up. Alabama and Michigan similarly delayed gun bills due to the killings. The California Legislature voted to limit handgun purchases to one per person per month shortly after the Columbine tragedy. And in Washington, President Clinton has unveiled his answer: legislation that would crack down on gun shows and illegal gun trafficking, while banning gun ownership for people who committed violent crimes as juveniles. National debate - again In the week after the devastation, both state and federal policymakers are closely watching the tone of the national dialogue, as the country debates the link between guns and violence. Added emphasis on restricting juveniles' access to guns could be one result. While few suggest the same degree of outrage is present that led to a ban on mail-order firearms in the wake of Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968, the nation is taking a second look. "The country is very receptive to it {additional restrictions} right now," says Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control," at the State University of New York in Cortland. "Nobody is arguing that if we had tougher laws, last week wouldn't have happened. But we can ask, 'Is the government doing all it can do? …