When a million moms marched in Washington and 70 other cities in May, their platform was straightforward. They asked for safety training and licensing for handgun owners; the closing of loopholes that allow criminals, kids and the mentally ill to get guns; and tough enforcement of our gun laws. The mothers also said that if our current lawmakers won't enact these measures, they will elect people who will.
For anyone who cares about the gun issue, the November election matters. We at Handgun Control played a big role in the march and we share its objectives. We remember well the policies of the previous administration, when President Bush vowed to veto the Brady bill and the National Rifle Assn. ran the show. The gun lobby looks forward to a second Bush administration. It was in a California meeting that NRA First Vice President Kayne Robinson declared that, if George W. Bush wins, "we'll have a president . . . where we work out of their office."
If Americans think that all that's at stake is the status quo, they're wrong. It's not just that we won't even be able to close the loopholes that allow the wrong people to get guns and make it difficult to enforce our gun laws. And it's not just that states with tough gun laws, like California, will continue to suffer violence from guns coming in from other states, for lack of a comprehensive federal system. It could get worse.
Only seven years ago, there were no background checks in 32 states, there was no ban on Uzis and AK-47s, crime guns were not traced and there were almost 300,000 licensed gun dealers, many of them selling guns from their kitchen tables. That has all changed for the better.
Today, no licensed dealer in any state can sell a gun without a background check, new AK-47s and Uzis have been banned, we have a comprehensive program tracing crime guns and there are now fewer than 85,000 gun dealers.
However, what we've gained could disappear. The next president will determine the future of the federal assault weapons ban. That law is up for reauthorization in 2004. The assault weapons ban, which prohibits the manufacture and sale of Uzis, AK-47s and other military guns, along with magazines holding more than 10 bullets, has the overwhelming support of the American public and every major law enforcement organization. But the pro-gun House of Representatives actually voted to repeal the ban in 1996, although the bill never made it to a Senate vote. A pro-gun president and Congress would allow the ban to end, paving the way for a new flood of assault weapons on American streets. Even Californians, with their new assault weapon ban, may find themselves posting sentries at their borders with Nevada and Arizona.
Then there's the matter of the gun show loophole. Legislation to close it passed in the U.S. Senate in May only when Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking vote. Since then, Congress has not acted to prevent felons from buying guns at gun shows without background checks. George W. Bush said his choice for vice president would not have voted to close the gun show loophole. The choice of Dick Cheney, who voted to allow cop-killer bullets and plastic guns on our streets, leaves no doubt about that.
The gun lobby wants to give a special break to gun show sellers, a 24-hour "instant check," so that if at the end of one day the system cannot clear a buyer, he or she gets the gun. The FBI tells us that, in one year, having 72 hours to check out gun-store purchasers prevented at least 17,000 felons, wife-abusers and other prohibited purchasers from getting guns. We want the same law that applies to licensed gun dealers to apply at gun shows--three business days to do a background check.
There is also the issue of carrying concealed handguns in public places. Thanks to the gun lobby, in 29 states the police must grant permits to almost anyone who wants to carry concealed weapons in public places. In 1997, Gov. Bush actually signed a bill to allow carrying of handguns in churches, nursing homes, hospitals and amusement parks. That law also lets people from other states carry their handguns into Texas. The gun lobby wants to imitate the Texas law with a national concealed-carry system that would allow all permit-holders to carry their guns anywhere in the U.S. The states with the most liberal concealed-carry laws and the fewest safeguards would have the dubious honor of exporting their gun-toting citizens to other places. Californians, who steadfastly reject a hidden-handgun system, could be welcoming pistol-packing tourists to Disneyland and Dodgers games. When you vote, keep in mind that to change our nation's gun laws, we need lawmakers on our side.