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Shooting for the Presidency

By Xiao Wu

In grand Texan tradition, George W. Bush, during his run for the Texan governorship, headed off into the woods in the middle of dove shooting season with rifle on shoulder and a pack of reporters following close upon his heels--no doubt to showcase his closeness to nature and the common man. In fact, Bush did shoot and bag a bird. Unfortunately, the bird had the audacity not to be a dove, but a killdee--a member of an endangered species no less.

Five years later, moving onto the national stage and playing with quite different rules, nary a shotgun is to be seen in Bush's vicinity. Gun control, like abortion and school vouchers, is one of the few key issues that separate Bush from Gore. Neither candidate denies that gun violence is a problem. The numbers are indisputable--over 30,000 people die every year because of firearms, nearly 4,000 of them are under the age of 20. On the campaign trail to become President of the United States, Bush has downplayed his connections to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and has claimed to support common sense gun control proposals, such as closing the gun show loophole and requiring criminal background checks for sales at gun shows. In addition to some minor changes in federal law, Bush claims that the stricter enforcement of current laws would reduce gun violence without any further infringement on the American people's basic freedom to own firearms. (An American flag flaps in the background, the national anthem swells and Bush smiles with boyish charm for the cameras.)

But wait. As Governor of Texas, has Bush practiced what he preaches? What may we look forward to under a President Bush? In fact, five years after Bush became Governor, Texas still does not require criminal background checks at gun shows, and Texas has quite a few of those472 gun shows in 1998. Bush has said in the past that he would support mandatory background checks, yet his own words and their support by 85 percent of Texans have, in five years, resulted in no legislation. The full extent of what he has done in Texas has been to make empty promises (on camera, of course, to those pesky reporters) and then evade and put off those with an honest desire to see Texas improve its appalling gun record. Although federal law prohibits minors from owning handguns, Texas law still sets no minimum age for the possession of handguns, and in Texas, it is still legal for a person of any age to possess a long gun. That's right, you can own a gun in Texas before you learn how to walk.

What Bush has done is sign into law an NRA backed bill that allows almost any Texan who is not a felon to obtain a concealed carry license and carry concealed handguns into churches, amusement parks and even schools. Bush still staunchly defends the law despite polls showing that less than a majority of Texans support it. Last year, he signed into law another NRA backed bill banning Texas cities and counties from bringing lawsuits against the firearm industry. In a recent survey of state gun laws, Texas ranked 45th in the nation, having some of the weakest gun control laws in the country. At a time when alarming shootings at Columbine High School and other schools across the country have shocked many into reassessing our current gun laws, Bush # has been the NRA's best friend in Texas, passing and maintaining laws that undermine even the minimum standards of already lax federal laws. In the meantime, close to 2,500 Texans a year are killed by guns.

In February of this year, NRA vice president Kayne Robinson gloated to a roomful of NRA faithfuls that should Bush be elected President, "We'll have a president...where we'll work out of their office." The question now is, do voters want the NRA to call the shots from the Oval Office?

Xiao Wu '02 is a history and literature concentrator in Eliot House. She is a member of Youth at Harvard Against Handgun Violence

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