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An Energized NRA

May 19, 2003

This month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) began a hard fight to get Congress to reauthorize the federal assault weapons ban she courageously championed 10 years ago. Unless Congress acts, the ban will expire in September and manufacturers will once again be able to legally sell these mass-murder machines.

There is no legitimate use for the Uzis and AK-47s and the dozens of other assault guns that can spray 30 bullets in five seconds. These guns are not for duck hunting; they're weapons of outlaw terror. However, with many pals in the Republican-led Congress, the emboldened National Rifle Assn. aims not just to block new gun-control laws but to reverse old ones.

The bill that Feinstein and others introduced would make the assault gun ban permanent and close a loophole. The 1994 law bans the domestic manufacture of high- capacity ammunition clips but allows importation of such clips made abroad. Feinstein's bill would bar both.

Even though President Bush says he backs the toughened ban and the public and police officers steadfastly support it, the NRA slams it as "the most sweeping gun ban ever." So, no surprise, Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) -- faithful NRA supporter and grateful recipient of its campaign largess -- has vowed to see that the ban expires.

That's not all. The NRA is pushing hard to make gun manufacturers immune from civil lawsuits by crime victims. A bill that cleared the House last month would exempt firearms makers and retail dealers from liability. No other industry has such immunity. Not automakers that have paid millions to victims after SUVs flipped over or defective tires burst. Or crib makers whose badly spaced bars choked babies to death.

Families of the Washington-area sniper victims have sued Bushmaster Firearms, which made the assault rifle the two alleged shooters used, and the Bull's Eye Shooter Supply store in Tacoma, Wash., which sold the gun.

Because federal law forbade Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad to buy a rifle, the suits claim that Bull's Eye was negligent in selling one to them. They also claim that Bushmaster supplied Bull's Eye despite knowing that the store had repeatedly violated federal firearms records laws. The NRA-backed proposal would bar such lawsuits, no matter the extent of negligence.

The NRA is energized now, pushing its Charlton Heston T-shirts and even baby bibs picturing preschool blocks with the letters NRA. Senators who defy the group are sure to face reelection revenge. These lawmakers need to hear from the quiet majority who worry about their families' safety and this nation's burgeoning supply of guns.

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To Take Action: Go to www.senate.gov and e-mail one or both of your senators.

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