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Power to the People?


THE HOUSE OF Representatives joined the Senate last week in caving into the demands of a big lobby with big bucks, passing a National Rifle Association-sponsored bill to drastically weaken gun control. The vote in the House is as much a comment on the way Congress does business as it is a comment on the power of the NRA.

The House's 292-130 vote in favor of the NRA complements the Senate's overwhelming vote in favor of lax gun laws last year. Neither the Senate nor the House would allow complete hearings, with the majority of both bodies accepting at face value the NRA's word that gun control had been debated enough already. Ironically, in defending its interpretation of the Second Amendment, the NRA is willing to subordinate legislative process. And, as the vote has shown, that's okay with Congress.

And Congress also showed last week that it cared more about the NRA's dollars than it did about the lives of policemen, who swarmed Capitol Hill to defeat a bill which their organizations had labeled "cop-killing."

The newly approved bill repeals key provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. It permits the interstate transport of all firearms, as well as most interstate sales of rifles and shotguns--deregulations the NRA claims are essential to sportsmen but which really do more to stifle law enforcement efforts.

Looking at another provision of the new bill--an easing up on record-keeping requirements and police inspections for gun dealers--it appears that more than Second Amendment rights and sportsmanship are at stake. The NRA, it seems, is worried about the welfare of gun dealers, whose sales are the biggest victim of gun control. Cash flow in the gun market, rather than "civil liberties" of hunters and "honest citizens," is its overriding concern.

Existing gun regulations were loose enough to allow the needless deaths of over 20,000 Americans last year. Congress, were it brave enough to ignore the campaign money the NRA waves, would see that gun laws should be strengthened. A mandatory federal waiting period and licensing of firearms--especially easily concealable handguns--would better keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, without violating anyone's rights.

Eighteen years after the assassinations of King and Kennedy, Congress is willing to forget about what happened without serious gun regulation. Public opinion hasn't changed; only Congress' willingness to risk the wrath of the NRA and prevent needless gun-related deaths has.

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