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When Smoke Clears in the Gun Debate

May 18, 1994|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The firearm debate has built a cross-fire riddled with more ricochets than conclusive hits.

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Claim: Control advocates point to a 1989 statement by Baltimore police chief Leonard Supenski, who said he was weary of "passing out flags to widows of officers killed by drug dealers with Uzis."

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Counter: Pro-gun forces say FBI statistics, compiled for the National Rifle Assn., prove that between 1980 and 1989, only one police officer--and in Puerto Rico--had been killed by such a weapon.

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Claim: Assault rifles are responsible for the majority of gun murders and should be banned.

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Counter: FBI data show that rifles of all types account for less than 4.5% of murder weapons. Assault rifles represent only a minuscule number.

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Claim: Anti-gun forces point to a recent medical report that says keeping a handgun in the home triples the chance that someone will be killed there.

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Counter: Pro-gun representatives refer to another study that says firearms are used 2.1 million times per year to deter crime--and without any shots fired.

In several days of interviews with The Times, NRA President Bob Corbin certainly put a spin on his arguments.

He said NRA money and influence were responsible for the 1992 defeat of Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), an 11-term incumbent. Alexander certainly supports gun control. What Corbin did not mention is that voters were equally dismayed by Alexander's record of writing 487 bad checks, the worst offender in the House bank scandal.

Corbin said ABC, CBS and NBC television networks--also the Washington Post and New York Times--refuse NRA advertising.

When contacted, spokesmen for the Post and the New York Times--also the Los Angeles Times--said they have never refused NRA advertising. Network television representatives confirmed that they do not accept NRA "issue advertising"--but such policies also refuse commercials from groups in favor of gun control, abortion and other issues.

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Question: When the Second Amendment was written, the right to bear arms involved only muzzle-loading flintlocks. Would signers have allowed the right to bear semiautomatic rifles and handguns with 15-shot magazines?

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Answer: "Well, I could say the same thing about you and your business, freedom of press and freedom of speech. Did our forefathers foresee television and radio? No. Yet the First Amendment still applies and protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press from all the technology we have."

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Q: Is gun control synonymous with crime control?

A: "Far from it. Did drug laws reduce the use of drugs and the amount of drugs coming into this country? A criminal is a criminal. A criminal doesn't obey any law. What makes you think he is going to obey a little gun law?"

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Q: In 1991, 61% of 30,000 suicides were by firearms. Surely gun controls would reduce that number.

A: "If somebody is going to commit suicide and they can't find a gun, they'll find a knife, they'll find poison, they'll jump off a bridge. Or get Jack Kevorkian."

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Q: However, gun controls would certainly reduce the number of children accidentally shot by playing with handguns.

A: "That is terrible, tragic. So do we do away with cars so cars wouldn't be hitting them when they run out in the street? If we do away with all poisons, kids wouldn't get under sinks and drink poison. If we didn't have swimming pools, they wouldn't be drowning in swimming pools. Kids are going to have accidents and are going to die. It's a part of life."

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Q: Between the poles of Handgun Control Inc. and the NRA, does there exist an even, civilized reality?

A: "No. Because they lie. They said: 'All we want is the Brady Bill and a waiting period.' And then after it is passed, they say it is just the beginning, the camel's nose under the tent and 'we're coming after all your guns.' So why should we compromise? Let them compromise once in a while."

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Q: But they claim a legitimate concern with rising violence and high-powered weapons in the hands of criminals.

A: "About 70 million law-abiding citizens own 200 million guns in this country. Less than 3/10ths of 1% of those 70 million misuse them. And if 99.77% don't misuse 'em, why do you want to punish them? Criminals are the problem, not the law-abiding gun owner."

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