What would you call an elected official who surrendered to a terrorist to save his own skin? You'd call him a coward--and rightly so. You might sympathize with his human weakness, but you also might fairly wonder who or what he would sell out the next time he was threatened?
Some single-issue lobbies are the political equivalent of terrorist organizations. They do not have principles; they have obsessions. They do not compromise or engage in normative politics; they speak only the language of intimidation and are willing to destroy anyone who threatens the one idea they have irrationally chosen to elevate above all others. Among such groups, the National Rifle Assn. ranks as a kind of Black September.
Last week in Sacramento, for example, the NRA bullied 22 timid state senators into defeating AB 497, a proposal intended to keep criminals and madmen from buying guns. The measure--which received bipartisan support in the Assembly and which Gov. George Deukmejian had indicated he would have signed had it reached him--was written by Sacramento Democrat Lloyd G. Connelly. His moderate, carefully drafted bill would have extended the current 15-day interval between the purchase of a handgun and its delivery to all sales of all firearms. That short, two-week waiting period would have allowed the Department of Justice to ensure that the prospective purchaser was not a person prohibited from gun ownership. These would have included individuals found mentally infirm under law, convicted felons, those found guilty of specified violent misdemeanors within the previous 10 years and individuals prohibited from possessing a weapon as a condition of probation.
On the Senate floor, Connelly's measure was supported not only by Democratic leader David Roberti, but also by former Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis, a conservative Republican and serious sportsman.
However, 13 Republicans, who behave as if their party caucus were a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA, hearkened to their master's voice and obediently voted against the measure. They were: Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach; Robert G. Beverly of Manhattan Beach; William Campbell of Hacienda Heights; William A. Craven of Oceanside; John Doolittle of Rocklin; Bill Leonard of Big Bear; Ken Maddy of Fresno; James W. Nielsen of Rohnert Park; Don Rogers of Bakersfield; Edward R. Royce of Anaheim; Newton R. Russell of Glendale; John Seymour of Anaheim, and Larry Stirling of San Diego.
They were joined in their flight from duty by eight Democrats, whose terror of the professional gun lobby cowed them into breaking ranks with their own leadership, and a frightened independent, They were: Daniel E. Boatwright of Concord; Wadie A. Deddeh of Bonita; John Garamendi of Walnut Grove; Cecil N. Green of Norwalk; Dan McCorquodale of San Jose; Henry J. Mello of Watsonville; Robert Presley of Riverside; Rose Ann Vuich of Dinuba, and Quentin L. Kopp of San Francisco.
It took a massacre in a Stockton schoolyard to embolden lawmakers such as these to vote a ban on deadly military-style assault weapons. This time, there was no televised atrocity to stiffen their spines. What kind of people, Californians might ask, need the sight of murdered children to make them do the right thing?