Disconnect between gun crime and gun-control laws

The weapons that federal lawmakers seek to control are not the ones

Once again, the din rises on Capitol Hill over gun control. But as in the past, all the arm-waving may not do much to reduce crime in America - including tragedies like Littleton, Colo.

The action comes this week over gun-control provisions in a key juvenile-justice bill. But even if the bill stays bogged down over the issue, some firearms policy experts say it's probably just as well.

Their reasoning: Laws that spin out of Congress after events like Littleton often have little impact on the street. Legislation that emerges at such times, they say, is usually so incremental as to be pointless - and is often unrelated to real-life crime.

"The factual trends [in gun crime] have nothing to do with the legislation" under consideration in the Senate, says Gary Kleck, a criminal justice professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

The bill, for example, included amendments to ban minors from buying assault weapons and to prohibit the import of high-capacity ammunition clips.

But the fact, says Mr. Kleck, is that assault weapons are used in less than 2 percent of all crime. High-capacity ammunition magazines, a perennial target of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, are a nonissue when it comes to reducing crime.

"There is virtually no crime where more than 10 rounds are fired," says Kleck, who bases his assertion on studies of crime and guns recovered in its commission.

Others say Congress's history of creating legislation to satisfy the politics of the day is the bane of American gun law. Lawmakers, they say, are not focused on writing law that homes in on certain firearms and criminal access. Firearm legislation is influenced more "by interest-group pressure, [financial] contributions, and grass-roots politics" than by looking at most-used firearms, says Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control."

According to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, of 197,538 fire-arms traced last year after being confiscated at crime scenes, the top five are the Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, the Lorson Engineering .380 caliber pistol, the Ruger 9-mm semi-automatic pistol, the Raven Arms .25 caliber handgun, and the North China Industries 7.62 rifle.

Except for the North China Industries rifle, which fires the same ammunition as an AK-47 assault weapon, most guns on the Top 10 list are used legitimately on firing ranges or by hunters across the US.

That, of course, has complicated gun policy. As a result, legislation remains focused on eliminating high-capacity magazines or assault weapons - even though the likelihood of reducing crime through such measures is negligible. "Those firearms are rarely ever used in crimes," says B.J. Zapor, an ATF special agent.

But even if a widely used gun, such as the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, were banned, "there would be another gun that would move up and take its place on the list," says Robert Ricker of the Atlanta-based American Shooting Sports Council.

"To direct legislation at a brand of gun is misdirected," he adds. Background checks and a better firearm tracing system would be more effective, he says.

Others suggest putting the industry under the same regulatory umbrella as other consumer products. "We should be asking ... how can we allow the industry to produce a piece of firearm pornography like the TEC 9 ... and allow the industry to exist without any regulation of the product?"says Tom Diaz of The Violence Policy Center, an antigun group based here.

Still, some see symbolic value in banning certain firearms. "You still have an interest in trying to put an overall cap on trafficking in America," Mr. Spitzer says.

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