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Don't Turn Back Now : Gun-control gains must not be erased by the political shift on Capitol Hill

November 14, 1994

Those who believe that controls on certain classes of deadly firearms have made a substantial contribution to public safety are in for a difficult period. Even before last Tuesday's Republican landslide, GOP leaders were vowing to push federal legislation to emasculate landmark gun laws including the Brady bill--the national five-day waiting period for handgun purchasers--and the new ban on assault weapons. Now, with the GOP controlling the House and the Senate, the enemies of sensible gun controls are in a position to make good on their threats.

The National Rifle Assn. boasts it defeated 19 of 24 targeted candidates. Clearly it packs political muscle that could help shift congressional deliberations away from reasonable gun control to so-called "crime control." Whether such a strategy prevails will depend in large part on lawmakers having the courage to hold fast in the face of a blitzkrieg of lobbying. President Clinton, too, must stand firm, and he must be willing to use the veto when it is needed.

Employing the veto would not boost Clinton's popularity in some quarters; it would be especially hard to kill pro-gun measures if they were camouflaged within anti-crime bills. Over the next two years this situation surely will pose a major test of the President's promise of last week to stand on principle.

Clinton and Capitol Hill lawmakers owe an obligation to those victims on the ever-expanding list of gun fatalities. Not just the five children slaughtered at a Stockton, Calif., elementary school in 1989; not just the eight people methodically gunned down in 1993 in a San Francisco law office. These are the cases one cannot forget. Rather it is the numbing string of routine gun deaths--the senseless, daily losses that mount into the tens of thousands--that demands political courage and a national response.

Many rational Americans have struggled for more than a quarter of a century to stem the unmitigated flow of the most dangerous firearms, such as assault weapons. Most agree now that such weapons ought to be banned. Congress finally summoned the nerve this year to listen to the calls for sanity and to fight the gun lobby. With that kind of progress having been made, why turn back now?

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