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California and the West | CAPITOL JOURNAL

From Arkansas, No Easy Answers on Gun Control

April 02, 1998|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — At least, I thought, after hearing about the two boys accused of mowing down their classmates with hunting rifles--here's one shooting spree that doesn't scream out for more gun control.

This country is not going to ban deer rifles or shotguns or common pistols. Nor should it. There's too much tradition, too much heritage, too much Americana. Not to mention the 2nd Amendment. Don't even think about it.

Let's be honest, there are some tragedies--even gun deaths--that government is powerless to prevent.

For once, the gun lobby seemed to be right: No conceivable new law could have prevented these 11- and 13-year-old Arkansas kids from stealing an arsenal from their parents and a granddad, crouching in the woods 100 yards from the school, and plinking their classmates like tin cans.

"As far as I know, they broke just about every gun law there is," says California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, himself the target of both pro-gun and anti-gun activists.

"When are we going to stop talking about guns and talk about the breakdown of families and attitudes? This is a culture question--not a question about some instrument for kids. This culture of violence breeds an indifference toward life. It breeds irresponsibility. . . .

"First and foremost, it's a question of parental responsibility."

You do have to ask yourself what the parents of one kid had been thinking when, as a toddler, they posed him in a camouflage outfit, cradling a rifle. That made the cover of Time this week. Cute. What was the message to the little boy? Be like Rambo?

I called my old pheasant hunting buddy, former state Sen. H.L. "Bill" Richardson, founder and chairman of Gunowners of America. He wasn't buying any of it--certainly not gun control, but also not parental blame.

"There's something that people don't like to say," he said. "And it's just 'bad seed.' Some start out pretty ugly, pretty young. In one family, you can have a kid who turns out to be a doctor and saves lives and another who becomes a killer."

*

Well, hold on! Turns out it's not that simple.

These two kids, based on police reports, clearly were little lawbreakers who hadn't learned from their parents about respect for life. Maybe they are "bad seeds." But, we now find, this mass killing does point up the need for more gun control.

One of the kids--apparently the former gun-toting toddler-- allegedly was firing a semiautomatic, .30-caliber M-1 carbine with a 15-round magazine. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein says she learned that from federal agents and the sheriff in Arkansas. Of the 24 bullets fired at the schoolchildren, 15 came from this one high-capacity magazine.

Would all 15 victims have been hit--including the five who died--if the gunfire had come from a common bolt-action rifle with, say, a five-bullet capacity, rather than the rapid-firing semiautomatic with 15 rounds? Probably not. Regardless, I can't think of any recreational value to a big-capacity magazine that's worth risking one person's life.

Anybody who needs a 15-round magazine to shoot deer ought to stay in the truck. I sure don't want to be hunting on a hillside near him. If he just wants to spray the landscape for fun--play Rambo--maybe that pleasure can be sacrificed in the interest of making this a slightly safer world.

"The problem isn't guns," Richardson insists. "Why should I be denied the same rights my father and my father's father had?"

Answer: Because in your father's and grandfather's day, there were a lot fewer people, a lot more open space--and none of these superguns, no "assault weapons." They do get stolen--sometimes by a bad seed from a granddad.

*

That 15-round magazine--or any magazine holding more than 10 bullets--could not be sold under legislation Feinstein plans to introduce in Congress.

In Sacramento, Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda) is pushing a bill that would ban the sale of granddad's M-1--or any semiautomatic rifle capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

Both the Feinstein and Perata bills contain a "grandfather" clause that would allow granddad to keep his assault weapon. The idea is to stop the proliferation.

Perata's bill will be up for final passage in the Assembly on April 13. It's a very close call. Even if the measure passes, it's given only a 50-50 chance of being signed by Gov. Pete Wilson.

"After a while, this gets to be a stupid debate," Perata says. "Kids are arming themselves and people are dying."

Ah, but guns don't kill kids. Kids kill kids. Try explaining that to the families of four dead schoolgirls and a teacher in Jonesboro, Ark.

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