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'Safe' Is Better Than 'Cheap'

Wilson should ignore the cost argument and sign ban on junk guns

September 11, 1997

Gov. Pete Wilson has not indicated whether he will sign or veto a bill that outlaws the manufacture and sale of so-called Saturday night specials in California. But shortly after the Legislature gave final approval to the bill Tuesday, a Wilson spokesman worried aloud whether the measure would "preclude people from obtaining an inexpensive form of self-protection." In other words, by requiring that handguns made or sold in California meet certain safety standards, the bill might price handguns beyond the reach of some Californians.

Put aside the fact that this measure is supported by police chiefs and sheriffs up and down the state. Forget for a moment that federal law requires that handguns made abroad meet a set of safety and size standards before they can be imported into the United States. These standards, designed to prevent accidental discharge or explosion, do not apply to handguns manufactured in this country. So what do we get? By some estimates, a small group of California firms produce 80% of American-made junk guns, which cost from $40 to $150 and are hardly safe whichever end you're standing on.

Let's consider just the argument that the bill is unwise public policy because it could make handguns too expensive for the poorest Californians, thereby depriving them of a form of self-defense. By this reasoning, the governor could oppose requirements that automobiles include seat belts or that hamburger meat pass federal inspection. Each of these safety mandates increases the product's cost and might make a car or even a necessity like food unaffordable to some.

Minimal gun safety rules, designed to protect gun owners from inadvertent injury, even death, are surely no different from these other safety rules. Junk guns are not self-defense but disasters waiting to happen. Wilson should sign this reasonable bill.

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