Guns in the Cross Hairs

A number of Democrats served notice during their convention that one issue they'd be targeting this fall is gun control. Indeed, they seemed downright confident they'd hit the bull's eye.

After all, their opponent is a governor who signed laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons, even into hospitals and churches. He also backed a law preventing any cities in Texas from joining in lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

And his running mate? Well, Dick Cheney during 12 years in Congress (1978-1990) consistently opposed gun-control measures, including a bill to ban bullets that could pierce the protective vests sometimes worn by police officers.

But these facts aren't the whole picture, politically. George W. Bush also signed a law to hold adults criminally liable if they allow children to have access to loaded weapons. As a campaigner, he has tried to carve out a more moderate position on guns. He's on record favoring background checks on purchasers at gun shows, a higher minimum age for legally buying handguns, and wider distribution of trigger locks - positions he shares with many Democrats.

Mr. Cheney, for his part, has said he'd probably reconsider some of those earlier votes in Congress.

Reconsidered votes figure in the other party, too, since Al Gore had a pro-gun voting record during much of his time on the Hill representing Tennessee. His turnaround has been 180 degrees, with the licensing of handgun buyers among his current stands. Running mate Joseph Lieberman also favors strong gun controls.

The candidates' current stands should guide voters who care about this issue. Is Bush carving out a credible middle ground, advocating some added controls while calling for better enforcement of current laws? Does Gore really have the anti-gun-violence fervor needed to push for stronger laws at the national level? The resistance to such laws in Congress has been repeatedly demonstrated.

Advocacy groups on both sides of the gun issue will do all they can to paint candidates into corners. Pro-gun forces, led by the National Rifle Association, plan to spend more than $15 million to get their message across and get out their vote. Antigun forces will spend less, maybe $4 million to $6 million, but that represents a big jump over past years. They'll try to motivate the more numerous, but less cohesive, body of voters who favor stronger gun-control measures.

Gun violence is of growing concern to Americans. The candidates will have ample opportunity in the next 11 weeks to show that they share this concern.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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