Washington — The country is roused by recent murders with handguns. It seems about time for another crime commission. I have a shelf filled with past crime commission reports. There was the Wickersham Commission in 1931; the Katzenback Commission , 1967; Kerner Commission, 1968; Milton Eisenhower Commission, 1969; and also dozens of unofficial studies. The story is generally the same: The commission makes a report and nothing happens. America has the highest crime rate among industrialized nations, and the commissions tell why. The trouble is to get authorities to listen to them.
Sociologist Kenneth B. Clark of the Kerner Commisson wrote, "I must in condor say to you members of this commission -- it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland, with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations -- and the same inaction." In 1972 the Committee for Economic Development, in a report, said of the various crime commissions (all of which urged handgun restriction) that "their recommendations over a period of 40 years display a remarkable degree of consistency and similarity. . .. A suitable agenda for action has been available for 40 years."
I get tired of hearing attacks on "bureaucracy." I don't like bureaucracy either, but the culprit in this particular field is not an amorphous bureaucracy; I think it's Congress. Handguns are used to murder every year about twice the average casualties in Vietnam in the worst years. If the present popular wave of interest continues I would suggest that President Reagan might name a new crime study; it would take a year or two to prepare a report, after which it would make its solemn recommendations to Congress, after which, according to precedent, not much of anything would happen.
I was present when Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, the President's brother, one-time president of Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the President's Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, testified before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Oct. 24, 1975. He estimated that "at least" 40 million concealable handguns were in the US, and the number was increasing 3 million a year. His commission unanimously recommended a ban on "manufacture, importation and distribution." Violent crime is from "five to 90 times higher in the US than in other civilized, developed countries"; take away the handguns, he said, and violent crimes will be reduced.
"Though more than 70 percent of the American people in poll after poll over a period of 15 years have expressed deep concern," he said, "powerful forces are working against the adoption of essential legislation. I have personally been bombarded with hysterical and occasionally threatening letters since the commission report was published late in 1969." He added:
"Nothing I have said applies to shotguns and rifles. The concealable handgun is the enemy of our society, not sporting weapons."
Poll taker Louis Harris testified at the same hearing. He said 68 percent of those polled believed easy availability of guns contributed to violence; 83 percent favored registration; only 13 percent said no.
Dr. Eisenhower went futher into the the matter in his book "The President Is Calling." "Every civilized nation of the world, other than our own," he wrote, "has comprehensive national policies of gun control." Yet, he continued, when he urged control to the press or television, "vitriolic mail at once poured into my office, nearly all of it instigated by form letters and cards distributed nationally by the rich and politically powerful National Rifle Association." The study was instituted under Lyndon Johnson but not completed until the administration of Richard Nixon, to whom Dr. Eisenhower gave a 45-minute briefing on the findings. As to gun control he told the President that "every poll taken on the subject over a 10-year period showed that about 75 percent of the American people wanted some such action as we had proposed."
Nothing happened. Dr. Eisenhower wrote sadly in his book that "for 18 months after I reported to President Nixon the White House was absolutely silent regarding our commission's study and recommendations. Evidently our report, like many others, had been filed and forgotten. It is easier to talk about attacking crime and violence than it is to do something about it."
Is that still true? I sense a new protest now rising against crimes of violence in America, but how steadfast i s it? A new crime study, anyone?