Gun Control: A Great Year, but What's Next?

Article excerpt

For gun control, call it a banner year.

Maryland has just passed America's first trigger lock "smart gun" law, with President Clinton traveling to Annapolis to see Gov. Parris Glendening sign it.

Massachusetts has cleared legal barriers to applying consumer safety laws to guns, just like toasters and autos.

Following the Columbine tragedy, California expanded its assault weapons ban and started requiring trigger locks on all guns sold.

Missouri voters stunned the gun lobby by rejecting a referendum that would allow concealed firearms.

To escape a barrage of suits by local, state and the federal governments, Smith & Wesson, the nation's biggest gunmaker, agreed to gun safety and dealer responsibility standards.

Voter initiatives are pending in Colorado and Oregon to close the gun show loophole by which unlicensed dealers aren't required to make background checks on buyers. And conservative governors are starting to switch.

Latest example: New York's George Pataki. He now wants a ban on assault weapons, mandatory background checks at gun shows, child safety locks on guns and a ballistic fingerprint of new guns so their owners can be traced.

So are we at an historic break point? Are the states, closer to the people and the families ravaged by America's daily toll of some 85 firearm fatalities, ready to assume gun reform leadership? Can they, will they fill the void left by a Congress apparently still beholden to the gun lobby?

Maybe so. Voters are impatient and "don't care who does it--just keep guns of their kid's school," CNN commentator William Schneider tells State-line News Service.

But let's not be fooled. In a political world that lets money rule supreme, the National Rifle Association and its allies are a continuing, feared force. And not just in Congress, but also--sometimes especially--in state legislatures.

Even in 1999, year of the Columbine High School carnage, 14 states passed NRA-backed bills to pre-empt home rule and forbid cities and counties from filing damage suits against gunmakers whose products are used to terrorize their streets.

The 14 included Pennsylvania and Arizona, not to mention Texas and Tennessee--home states of our leading presidential contenders.

And now comes a study from the New York-based Open Society Institute, backed by financier George Sores, which shows that most states, far from having the scads of unenforced firearms statutes that the gun lobby claims, actually have pitifully few control laws.

The Institute's study, a first-ever detailed analysis of the 50 states' laws (see crime/guncontrol.htm) shows:

Thirty-five states have neither registration nor licensing of any type of gun. Only Massachusetts, among the 50, now requires both registration and licensing.

Yet with a third of the guns used in crimes bought less than three years before the offense, registration/licensing might make a big difference.

Only two states--California and Connecticut--have banned private sale of assault weapons, ideal for mass homicides.

Thirty-one states have no waiting period on handgun purchases.

Eighteen states have no minimum age for possession of a rifle or shotgun. …