U.S. must do more to reduce gun violence

In Britain last week, the House of Commons approved a total ban on the possession of handguns, which is expected to be signed into law soon. Here at home, President Clinton recently announced that the treasury will order gun dealers to post a sign warning gun buyers that it is a felony to give a weapon to a minor. Americans who appreciate irony might be prompted to question the seriousness with which this country takes the issues of guns and crime. Critics of proposals to restrict sales of handguns time and again cite the constitutional right to bear arms. But certainly the founding fathers wouldn’t have condoned the violence in this country that is associated with virtually unlimited access to guns. The Brady Bill, passed in 1993, does require a five-day waiting period and authorization of a background check for the purchase of a handgun. But the safe handling and storing of guns after they are bought is an issue that must also be addressed by Congress. There are, in fact, guns in about half of the households in this country. And more than 30,000 deaths every year in this country are attributed to guns. The debate over gun control has waged furiously for years, with the National Rifle Association remaining a loud voice in the argument through its uniquely powerful government lobby. It is unlikely that the United States could, in the present climate, ban the possession of handguns. But our lawmakers could do more to protect citizens against the misuse and criminal use of guns.Members of Congress are too often inhibited in their efforts to demand stricter regulations and closer scrutiny of people who want to buy guns by the NRA’s political influence and public relations efforts. But it is time for the nation’s lawmakers to move beyond a dangerously strict interpretation of the second amendment, and pass more forceful legislation on gun registration, background checks, mandatory training and the implementation of safety guards on all types of firearms. When the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure in May authorizing more freedom to prosecute juveniles charged with federal crimes as adults, members rejected an attachment requiring guns to be sold with trigger locks, an inexpensive safety feature which keeps the weapon from accidentally firing. Most of the legislators didn’t want to link the piece of legislation to the gun control controversy, fearing it would sink the bill.Although concealed weapons are now legal in more than 30 states, registration and training are required to carry them. Whether a handgun is going to be carried in a purse or put away in a cabinet, the capacity of the weapon to injure or kill is the same. That is why it doesn’t make sense that registration and training isn’t required for the ownership of all guns. No doubt, stricter regulations on the purchase, handling and storage of handguns won’t end violence in this country. But neither will access to the guns for the purpose of self-defense. More careful regulation of the sale and use of handguns can, however, reduce the fatal complications that such weapons bring to violent situations. We simply are not doing all we can in this country to keep track of guns or to keep our citizens safe.