Snipers and the Gun Lobby

The senseless shootings in the greater Washington, D.C., area show the US has a long way to go in controlling gun use by criminals.

The states need to take a look at their sometimes complicated, and often difficult efforts to enforce gun- control laws. While progress toward curbing commerce in firearms continues, gun-control issues remain at the forefront of some midterm election campaigns, including Maryland, the central scene of the recent shootings.

What's needed is better regulation at gun shows (where purchasers in many instances don't have to undergo background checks), and in licensing all gun owners and registering every gun sold. Such rules would make weapons more easily traceable and help deter criminal use, while reinforcing responsible use.

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The 1994 federal law banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons (those guns with multiple assault features such as rapid-fire capability, silencers, and bayonets) will expire in September 2004, unless Congress seeks to renew it.

The courts have rightly resisted the gun lobby's legal challenges to the '94 law. But the National Rifle Association has used strong-arm political tactics in getting candidates to support NRA positions, or at least not oppose them. Such efforts are counterproductive in keeping a nation safe.

Even with the assault-weapons ban in place, some 670 types of hunting rifles and guns remain exempt under that ban. And that includes the high-powered rifle likely used by the sniper in the national capital area.

Far too often, thieves steal legally purchased guns for protection and turn them into lethal weapons. States with stricter gun laws (registration, lockup rules, and the like) are proven to have fewer thefts.

Keeping the ban on assault weapons makes a lot of sense, while wider bans and stricter gun-control laws make even more.

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