Efforts to regulate the way guns in America are purchased and
stored come up against the obvious: The nation is awash in guns.
Even if all gun manufacturing were halted immediately, more than
200 million guns still exist in homes across the country.
In the face of that practical reality, and amid growing concern
over firearm violence, gun advocates and gun foes - usually mortal
enemies - are laying aside their long-standing animosity in a few
experimental efforts to make communities safer.
"This is not an ideological struggle, it's a gritty attempt to
reduce gun violence," says Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, who is
on the cutting edge of fostering such cooperation.
Mayor Rendell's proposal to create a metrowide zero-tolerance zone
for illegal firearms has won praise from both the National Rifle
Association (NRA) and Handgun Control Inc. The plan is modeled after
a Richmond, Va., program that aggressively prosecutes firearm
violations using federal statutes in addition to state and local
ones. By using federal statutes, prosecutors on average have been
winning five-year terms for gun-law violators. Serious offenders
rarely get bail, and there is no reduction in sentence.
"Homicide by firearms is down almost 66 percent," Dave Schiller,
an assistant US attorney in Richmond, says of the year-old program.
In its first year, the program snared 363 guns. Of 251 people
arrested, 191 were convicted. Previous felons, prohibited from
possessing firearms, were the most common group of gun offenders.
The second largest group was drug traffickers. The third was those
possessing illegally modified weapons, particularly guns with serial
numbers filed off.
Three cheers from NRA
The NRA is downright enthusiastic about Rendell's proposal for the
City of Brotherly Love. "If we can get it off the ground and running
in Philadelphia, with the right kind of attention, it's something
everyone in America ought to look at," says NRA spokesman Bill
The White House supports the concept in principle, but it has not
given Rendell a solid endorsement.
"What we support is more money for more agents to enforce gun
laws, and more money for special prosecutors to try these cases,"
says White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. Rendell is expected to meet
with senior White House staff next week to lobby for support.
The quest for solutions has been heightened by the spate of school
shootings that began last fall. This week, President Clinton lent
support to several proposals aimed at preventing youth access to
firearms. Standing next to Suzann Wilson, who lost her daughter,
Brittheny Varner, in the Jonesboro, Ark. …