Whenever sensible gun control is discussed, opponents of gun control can be counted upon to claim, "We don't need more gun laws. There are already more than 20,000 gun laws on the books. Why don't we just enforce those?"
At face value, this may be a reasonable question. But it lacks context. First, the reason we have so many gun laws at the state and local level is that it has been almost impossible to pass substantive, comprehensive federal legislation. Second, the laws we do have either expand the privilege of gun owners or are written with loopholes.
Last year the National Rifle Association spent almost $1.6 million just at the federal level to weaken or kill sensible gun legislation. By weakening, I mean inserting language that lessens the scope or the impact that the laws have. For example, instead of laws that simply address who can have a gun, laws are separated into "purchase" and "possession," with different age requirements for both - thus doubling the number of laws. There are also separate laws for long guns and handguns. And then there are the loopholes which are written without penalties or sanctions, thereby creating laws with no teeth.
Senator Larry Craig's action on the juvenile justice bill (recently passed by the Senate) is a prime example of such a loophole. Sen. Craig's amendment would have made background checks at gun shows voluntary, not required. If not for the senators who took a stand regarding these "arms bazaars," Sen. Craig's useless phrasing would likely be law, and the loophole which allows criminals and juveniles to get guns at gun shows would have remained intact.
For more than 30 years, at both the state and federal level, efforts to pass reasonable, common-sense gun laws have been stymied by a vocal, free-spending, narrow interest group determined to foist its will on the American public, no matter how widely supported those laws are.
The majority of Americans have supported sensible gun control at least as far back as 1934, when George Gallup conducted his first survey on gun control. Since the Littleton massacre, that support is stronger than ever and the public is crying out for action. But a Congress that lives in fear of the gun lobby and its campaign war chest steadfastly refuses to make it a priority that parents be able to send their children to school without living in fear that they may not return in the afternoon - which most people after the Littleton shooting see as a necessity.
Then there are people like John Lott, the researcher who says that if more people were armed, there would be less crime. Despite the fact that Lott's "research" has failed peer review by noted academicians from several universities, he and the gun lobby continue to tout the ludicrous claim that more guns equals less crimeWhile it is true that crime has dropped all across the country, it is worth noting that crime has dropped faster in states with stricter concealed weapons laws than in states which it make it easy to carry hidden handguns.
If people cannot seek justice from their lawmakers, they must then seek it from the courts. More than 20 localities - cities and counties - have sued the manufacturers of guns because for years, guns have been made with more of an emphasis on lethality than safety. But the gun lobby, even while saying the cases have no merit, have sought to ban the lawsuits at the state and federal level. When will it stop?
When 2 year olds can fire today's guns, when lawmakers turn their backs on parents who want to keep their children from dying, and when the gun lobby is powerful enough that our nation is left with a legacy of loopholes in our gun laws, it is time to say "Enough is enough."
© 2000, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved