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True Aim for Anti-Crime Summit : Wilson should focus on gun control as much as on dealing with crime after the fact

January 14, 1994

The issue that will draw Gov. Pete Wilson and more than 100 others to Hollywood Wednesday and Thursday is, indisputably, of utmost importance. Violent crime in our cities and suburbs is eroding society's sense of security and well-being; it literally is changing the way Californians live and the way they feel about their communities.

The crime summit--Wilson's idea--is a good way to bring together the best minds in the state to talk about facts, funding and legislative strategies. And this is a particularly good time to talk about one of the best and most direct strategies for reducing gun crime: reducing the number of guns in circulation. However, a number of key figures actively seeking solutions to rising gun violence in California have yet to be invited. Some who have asked to participate have received a rather indifferent response from the governor's office.

We're concerned that the agenda of this two-day meeting may focus too heavily on options for dealing with criminals and their victims after the fact and not enough on preventing crime in the first place. We're especially worried that the governor and the participants he has invited may avoid discussing the best preventive of all, tight restrictions on private gun ownership.

Gun sales in California last year set a record; Californians purchased 665,229 firearms--about two-thirds of them handguns--an increase of 22% over 1992. Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren attributes this new high in gun purchases to a loss of faith by Californians in government's ability to protect them.

This, then, is Wilson's moment: Yes, governor, lead a memorial ceremony honoring victims of violent crime, as you plan to do. Debate gang-prevention strategies and longer prison terms for repeat felons. But speak out loudly and clearly as well against the arms race under way in California's cities. Talk about the very real danger of gun accidents attendant to keeping guns in the home. Talk about the high risk that guns bought for protection will be used against their owners. Direct the attorney general to move much more quickly than he has to add new models to the list of assault guns already prohibited under state law. Hear from legislators, including those from the other side of the aisle, who seek limits on the sale of ammunition and on the sale and private ownership of the weapons themselves. Listen to the state's big-city mayors, who, like many of us, often go to bed dreading the body count at dawn.

In short, devote as much time to strategies for controlling guns as to ways of squeezing more prisoners into the state's already crowded correctional facilities. That's a summit agenda that would produce results.

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