`How Many Senseless Deaths?'

MILITARY assault weapons, designed to kill onrushing enemy troops in close combat, too often are used to turn our cities into killing fields.

It will soon be determined if these semi-automatic assault weapons will continue to flood this country. On one side are law enforcement agencies and mayors such as Rudolph Giuliani (R) of New York and Richard Riordan (R) of Los Angeles. On the other is the National Rifle Association.

At issue is my legislation to stop the future sale, manufacture, and possession of 19 types of semi-automatic assault weapons and their copycat models. It also would prohibit the manufacture, sale, and possession of any device that feeds more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The legislation passed the Senate in November, and the president says he is ready to sign. But the House has not included it in its crime bill. Now it is up to the conferees from the Senate and House to ensure that an assault weapons provision is included in the final bill.

Meanwhile the death toll mounts. In the five months since I introduced the legislation, a survey of newspaper articles indicates that at least 35 people have been killed by these guns. Among the tragedies:

* In November, a New Orleans man driven by jealousy and armed with several assault weapons killed his girlfriend and their three daughters before turning the gun on himself.

* In December, a convicted felon bought an assault rifle and more than 100 rounds of ammunition in an Oklahoma pawnshop and, less than two hours later, opened fire in a Wal-Mart store, killing a husband and wife.

* In January, a 17-year-old from St. Paul, Minn., was charged with using a military-style rifle to kill another boy during an argument over stereo equipment.

* In February, Los Angeles police officer Christy Lynne Hamilton, just four days on the job, was gunned down by a 17-year-old boy with an AR-15 assault rifle.

* In March, a 16-year-old girl was killed in a drive-by shooting as she stood outside her Seattle high school during lunch hour.

* In April, in our nation's capital, a teenager was killed, and nine others, including a toddler, were wounded as masked gunmen indiscriminately opened fire inside a historic indoor marketplace.

Opponents of my legislation argue that assault weapons don't kill enough people to warrant restriction. So tell me: Exactly how many senseless deaths are enough?

Opponents also contend that restricting assault weapons is a first step to an unconstitutional ban on firearms. Nonsense; my legislation bans 19 gun types by name, exempting by name some 670 hunting and recreational guns. It does not give any government agency authority to ban additional weapons.

What hunter needs an assault weapon to hit his prey? Who besides drug dealers, hit men, and revenge seekers find utility in weapons intended to kill the most people as quickly as possible?

Most telling, police are principal victims of the 1 million assault weapons in circulation. In the past eight years, 28 police officers nationwide have been killed by such guns. According to Rep. Pete Stark (D) of California, assault weapons traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are 19 times more likely than any other type of weapon to take the life of a police officer.

The gun lobby is spending millions to distort the debate. But in a recent ABC News poll, 79 percent said they favored tougher controls on assault weapons. And 66 percent in a CNN/USA Today poll favored banning weapons like the AK-47.

My legislation isn't about restricting rights of responsible people. It's about getting the deadliest of weapons away from killers.

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