Voting For Gun Safety

A Bill supported by the National Rifle Association and making its way through Congress would shield gun dealers from lawsuits arising from crimes in which guns they sold were used.

The public needs to take notice before this bill passes.

Such legal immunity would nullify lawsuits arising from gun crimes. The city of Chicago has such a suit before the Illinois Supreme Court in which it is seeking $433 million from gun dealers and manufacturers for the cost of gun violence. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Los Angeles, New York, and St. Louis, and by families who suffered losses in the Washington-area sniper spree in 2002.

This bill would protect those reckless gun dealers who know when they are selling to criminals. Over half of all guns used in a crime were purchased from just 1 percent of gun dealers, according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

As the Senate maneuvers on the bill, however, Democrats have been able to amend it to close a loophole that now allows some unregulated sales at gun shows. Under current law, a gun cannot be purchased from a licensed gun dealer at a show without a background check. But if the seller is unlicensed, then no background check is required. Yet according to the ATF, gun shows are the second leading source of firearms recovered in gun trafficking probes.

Another amendment renews the 1995 ban on assault weapons. The use of assault weapons has dropped from 3.5 percent of all recovered crime guns in 1995 to 1.2 percent.

In an election year, of course, GOP lawmakers who might not support the amendments may become more amenable. They don't want to lose favor with suburban swing voters or police chiefs or big-city mayors, who favor gun control. And already, Republicans like John Warner of Virginia, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Mike DeWine of Ohio have joined the Democrats in their effort to renew the assault weapons ban.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA contributed $2,790,000 to politicians in the 2002 election cycle, 94 percent of that amount to Republicans.

For his part, President Bush says he favors the assault weapons ban, and in the 2000 presidential campaign, he supported closing the gun-show loophole. Yet he currently supports passage of the Senate bill without these amendments.

Playing politics with vital legislation that can help protect Americans from violent crime is dangerous. Eight young people (ages 19 and under) are killed in gun incidents each day. Senators should vote their conscience on each piece of this legislation, and not the NRA's agenda.

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