Say Yes To Serious Gun Control

When it comes to gun ownership in America, personal liberty has long been defined in terms equal to anarchy--no rules, no regulation, no nothing. Extremists on the fringe of society have all too effectively manipulated symbols of American culture to propagate a myth of the individual standing alone against bandits, "foreign" enemies, and the government itself. A culture of violence has replaced common sense, and the moderate voices of responsible hunters and sport shooters have been silenced. Congress, cowed by the lobbying power of the National Rifle Assn., cannot even bring itself to put real guns under the same consumer safety regulation applied to toy guns. Something must be done.

It appears that the American people are finally about to act. Polls show that an overwhelming majority want much tougher restrictions on handguns. In the wake of the bloody shootings by an unhinged day trader in Atlanta and by schoolchildren in Colorado and Arkansas, most Americans say they are more likely to vote for a Presidential candidate in 2000 favoring stricter gun control.

The obvious answer is to limit ownership and require registration of all guns and licensing of all gun owners. In Switzerland and Israel, where most citizens serve in the military and remain in the reserves, nearly all households have weapons. But each rifle and pistol is registered with the government, and each user undergoes months of training. In the U.S., licensing is already a way of life for hunters who must buy permits from local authorities to shoot a limited number of deer and ducks each season. A few states and localities already require registration of guns. Extending this kind of local regulation throughout the nation and ensuring that people know how to maintain their weapons responsibly is the best way to cut gun violence. Democratic Presidential contender Bill Bradley has come out in favor of full registration. He's right.

It is also vital to crack down on the handful of gun dealers who time and again provide weapons to criminals. Statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms show that most weapons used in crimes come from the same group of dealers. The ATF should shut them down. At the same time, buyers at gun shows and flea markets should be subjected to the same criminal background checks as those purchasing directly from dealers. The ludicrous loophole in the 1993 Brady bill that allows any private gun owner to sell his weapon to anyone anywhere has to be closed.

The gun industry itself is beginning to split under the political pressure. There are companies in the Southwest that produce cheap "Saturday night specials" and powerful automatic weapons that skirt the law. These "Ring of Fire" companies play to the apocalyptic fears of survivalists and anarchists who want to get "off the grid" of normal life and oppose any form of government. Then there are the more established Connecticut Valley companies that make more expensive, quality handguns and hunting rifles. They and their customers are increasingly open to the kind of sensible gun regulation that the police support in every town and city in the U.S.

Sometimes the obvious must be stated. There is no rational reason for any individual to own assault weapons. There is no reason most people, especially those with children, should own handguns. There is no reason extremists should determine government gun policies that threaten the lives of innocent people. It's time for serious gun control.