Progressive Gun Control

THE likelihood that Congress will approve, and President Clinton will sign, the ``Brady'' hand-gun control bill before year's end raises hope for passage of other needed legislation in the criminal justice field.

In a recent flurry of dealmaking, Rep. Jack Brooks (D) of Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed to separate the Brady bill from an omnibus criminal justice package, apparently breaking a logjam of crime and gun legislation. The Brady bill is expected to be passed by the House next week.

The bill is named for James Brady, President Reagan's press secretary who, along with the president, was shot and severely wounded 12 years ago by a deranged young man.

Mr. Brady's wife, Sarah, is chairwoman of Handgun Control, Inc., which sponsors a bill that would require handgun purchasers to wait five working days for background checks. President Bill Clinton has endorsed the drive to enact the gun bill, and it appears that recent maneuvers in the US House and Senate may result in enactment of the legislation.

The proliferation of private gun ownership in recent years is concomitant with what many consider increasing lawlessness, especially in major urban areas of the United States.

Illegal drug use is generally acknowledged as a major contributor to the misuse of firearms, especially handguns. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has lobbied diligently over the years against curbs on firearms use, repeatedly citing the US Constitution's Bill of Rights provision for ``the right to bear arms.''

Clothing its policies in such hallowed garb, the NRA has experienced much success up to now in thwarting attempts to place the mildest of strictures on the possession of guns.

Members of the NRA are well-versed in gun lore and are among those least likely to misuse firearms or be ignorant of safety rules. It is difficult to understand why such gun owners or users should balk at following policies that, like proper storage of firearms, can help protect people from those who break the rules.

Too many guns are getting into the wrong hands: hands that are bent on mischief; hands too young to realize the dangers of gun ownership. There are clear signs that, in our present society, those who wish to use firearms of whatever type and for whatever purpose, NRA-owned or not, are going to have to learn some rules that the writers of the Constitution never contemplated.

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