Control the Criminals. NO

THE violent death of any child is the most senseless of tragedies. When a madman in Stockton, Calif., invaded a school playground and destroyed five innocent young lives, we all felt a rush of anger and a wave of revulsion. The days that followed the Stockton killings were filled with emotion, accusation, and words of anger. Members of the media and anti-gun organizations played upon this emotion to their political advantage, clamoring once again for a ban on firearms - as if a few inanimate pounds of wood and steel were responsible for the deranged moods and misguided hatred that lurked in the killer's mind.

Assaults on firearms ownership often follow on the heels of such tragedy. Firearms bashing has become fashionable, faddish, and offers a conveniently simple appeal to the emotions. During the past 20 years American politicians have enacted a dizzying array of gun laws that have done nothing to curb crime rates. In fact, in our cities that have the most severe firearms restrictions, violent crime continues to escalate at an alarming rate. Common sense should show us that society simply cannot legislate against objects and thus hope to control insanity or the vagaries of the criminal mind.

The simplistic prattle calling for additional gun bans ignores the 20,000 laws nationwide that already restrict the ownership and use of firearms.

The Stockton killer had a record of breaking laws - including firearms laws. - during his sordid past. Had California's criminal-justice system done a better job of enforcing these existing laws, the murderer would have been behind bars, and lives would have been saved.

The gunman escaped lengthy jail terms, most likely through plea bargaining. Left with with no felony record, he went through the California 15-day ``waiting period'' and background check to buy handguns three times, and each time was approved.

This criminal never should have been allowed to own a gun. He had been arrested for robbery, selling dangerous weapons in violation of existing federal restrictions, and drug crimes. Reports indicate that he also exhibited mental instability following these arrests. Yet he slipped through the fingers of the criminal justice system. A judge and a prosecuting attorney had this man in their grasp and let him get away.

Our nation's 70 million law-abiding firearms owners should not be penalized for the actions of a criminal-justice system gone awry.

Further violence in America can be averted if we begin, right now, to deal swiftly and harshly with violent offenders.

For several years, the National Rifle Association has cried out for more stiff penalties. of this kind. Just last year we helped the citizens of Oregon pass a law that denies pardon and parole for repeat offenders. Some say it will be too expensive. However, the price of incarcerating a violent offender is meager compared to the havoc a felon will wreak if free to prey upon the innocent once again.

In the aftermath of the Stockton shootings Americans must realize that additional research is needed; research that will delve into the dark recesses of mental illness and help us detect and divert such tragedies in the future. We must also push for laws that will keep criminals such as the Stockton slayer behind bars, where he belonged.

Anti-gun forces must not be allowed to blame firearms for the actions of one man, nor should millions of legitimate gun owners be held accountable. The mechanics of the firearms the killer used are functionally the same as those owned by millions of safe, honest nonviolent firearm owners.

Logic and truth tell us that the fault rested within the man, not within the guns.

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