Gun control: How much is enough?

Today, I have some advice for aspiring political columnists: Never write about abortion or gun control. After all, I've been writing this Sunday column for nearly seven years now and have yet to deal with either of those "hot button" issues. So let's get it on!

In my view, the federal government should discourage abortion and promote traditional family values. And while I believe that women should be able to control their own bodies, I oppose late-term abortion and abortion on demand. Is that contradictory enough for you? OK, on to gun control....

A couple of Appeal columnists seem to think there's no such thing as too much gun control. Basically, they want to outlaw guns and disarm America. But in order to accomplish their objectives, they'd have to pry the guns out of the cold, dead hands of Charlton Heston and some of my more macho, outdoorsy friends. In case you hadn't noticed, Nevada is still Sagebrush Rebellion territory and the gun culture is so pervasive around here that gun shows are held regularly at the city-owned Community Center.

I decided to break the gun control barrier after the Washington Post reported that my favorite liberal Democrat, Nevada's own Harry Reid, is co-sponsoring a bill that would protect the gun industry from pending and future liability lawsuits. Reid, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, apparently met with representatives of the powerful National Rifle Association late last year to work out a compromise on gun liability legislation.

"Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota and several other Senate Democrats seeking reelection next year are considering joining Reid on the NRA's side (of the argument)," the newspaper commented.

According to the Post, "A majority of lawmakers (including Reid) are on record supporting significant new legal protections for companies that make and sell guns. The legislation would prevent victims of gun crimes from making civil claims against companies that manufactured, imported or sold the weapons." For instance, victims of the Washington Beltway snipers might be prohibited from suing the Tacoma, Wash., gun dealer who supplied the Bushmaster rifle used in some of last October's shootings.

Recognizing that 2004 is an election year, more than two-thirds of House members recently voted to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits, and 52 senators are sponsoring similar legislation in the Upper House. If it passes the Senate, which seems highly likely, President Bush has promised to sign the bill into law.

The NRA and a lesser-known organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have poured more than $100 million into the campaign to pass the proposed bill. "The NRA calls the legislation a prudent way to prevent companies from going belly-up simply because a criminal used their gun illegally," the Post explained. "But critics say the measure would allow some gun makers who misplace caches of weapons -- or dealers who sell guns to felons -- to escape civil penalties."

Why does this pro-gun legislation enjoy widespread, bipartisan support in Congress? Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., thinks it's because gun activists "have scared the hell out of the political people."

"People are frightened of a reaction from the gun lobby," Lautenberg told the Post. "Frankly, I think we need to stand up to them." The newspaper added that several lawmakers who supported gun control in the past "say privately they felt they had to vote for the bill or face the wrath of gun activists and the prospect of losing reelection." Consequently, most Democrats who are up for reelection next year are running away from gun control as fast as they can.

The Post also revealed that House Republicans plan to allow a 9-year-old ban on semiautomatic assault weapons to expire next year without a vote. A 1994 law made it illegal to "import, manufacture, transfer or possess" a specific list of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons, including the popular AK-47 assault rifle. Opponents say the ban violates the constitutional right to bear arms.

While I'm not a gun owner myself, I think there must be some reasonable middle ground between the alleged right to bear arms and the sweeping weapons bans favored by gun control extremists. Let's reread the Second Amendment to the Constitution: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

That doesn't sound like an absolute right to me but then, I'm not a constitutional scholar. So as an outside observer on this controversial issue, I don't see the need for additional gun control legislation until federal, state and local law enforcement agencies can enforce the laws that are already on the books.

WELCOME to the Bunny Ranch: Last week, I learned that a delegation of East Asian academics and government officials had visited our very own Moonlite Bunny Ranch as part of the State Department's International Visitor Program. The brothel's publicity-shy owner, Dennis Hof, assured the Feds that none of the visitors had sex with any of his girls as a State spokesman promised closer monitoring of the taxpayer-funded program. Off the record, no comment.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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