This time, there's no gun debate in Congress


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Andrew Rothman
April 10, 2005, 04:22 AM
Typical bias in the article, but even that can't hide the truth.

Oh, and note the grabbers' new spin on Red Lake: It's the gun industry's fault for not making smart guns for cops like the shooter's cop grandad.

http://startribune.com/stories/462/5338785.html
This time, there's no gun debate in Congress
Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondent
April 10, 2005 CONG0410

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The day after the Red Lake shootings, the latest of three mass killings in Minnesota and Wisconsin in recent months, a group of House Democrats fired off a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., demanding a fresh look at new gun legislation.

But gun control was not on the agenda when Congress returned last week from spring break. Top Republicans are loath to do anything that could restrict gun rights, and Democratic leaders -- still smarting from recent election reverses -- aren't eager to advertise themselves as the antigun party either.

Unlike the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which prompted a spate of gun-control proposals, the Red Lake High shootings have caused little more than a muted gun debate.

Political observers cite several reasons, chief among them the unique circumstances of the Red Lake shootings: Teen suspect Jeff Weise armed himself with pistols and rifles that he took from his slain policeman grandfather.

As gun-rights supporters have been quick to note, the Red Lake scenario seemed to be beyond the reach of most recent gun-control proposals: child-safety locks, background checks for gun-show sales and a ban on assault weapons.

"Everything that kid did that day, practically from the moment he walked out of his bedroom, was a felony," said Joe Olson, a Hamline University law professor and president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance. "I don't think any gun-control laws would have made a difference."

Not ready to concede

Gun-control advocates aren't ready to concede, arguing that next-generation safety locks and futuristic gun technologies that identify users by their hand grip could have made a difference, had the gun industry embraced them.

"The gun lobby has successfully fought advances in this technology," said Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "If they hadn't, we'd have the technology by now."

The Brady Campaign also took issue with incoming National Rifle Association (NRA) President Sandra Froman, who said the incident should prompt a discussion of new ways to keep children safe, including arming teachers.

Cultural differences also have been cited to explain why Red Lake is unlikely to become a rallying cry for a new gun-control debate. Unlike the Columbine shootings near Littleton, Colo., a white, middle-class suburb of Denver, the Red Lake Indian Reservation is a desperately poor community that has found little resonance in the culture of politics and television outside of Minnesota.

"The fact of the matter is it's Native Americans, and they're not a powerful political constituency," said David Schultz, who teaches American politics at Hamline.

Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents the Red Lake area in Congress, said attempts to use the Red Lake shootings as fodder in the gun-control agenda probably would backfire on the reservation.

"They've got enough problems without being dragged into a peripheral issue for political reasons," said Peterson, a member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. "I don't hear anybody bringing up guns. It's just not on anyone's radar."

Peterson takes partial credit for persuading Democratic Party leaders to back off gun control, an issue he says has cost them dearly in rural districts like his. "They realize that some of what they've done over the years has cost them seats," he said.

Among them was former Rep. David Minge, a Democrat who lost narrowly in 2000 to Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., who was backed by the NRA.

Gun-control advocates still point to Democratic allies such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who recently introduced legislation that would reestablish a federal assault-weapons ban, which Congress allowed to lapse last year.

Dean's influence

But the party's new tone on gun control is more likely to be set by incoming national party chief Howard Dean, who was endorsed by the NRA when he was governor of Vermont.

The gun issue has been underscored in recent months by a series of mass shootings in the Upper Midwest. The Red Lake shootings came a week after a gunman killed seven fellow churchgoers in a Milwaukee suburb and four months after a St. Paul man shot and killed six hunters near Hayward, Wis.

Schultz said the new Democratic leadership realizes that the battle over gun control is as much about conflicting cultural values as it is about the effectiveness of gun-control measures. "They're convinced that guns, along with values issues, have made them vulnerable," he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House, have shown no inclination to raise the issue.

A spokesman for Chairman Sensenbrenner said he has no plans to schedule a gun-control hearing, as the committee's Democrats have requested.

If anything, Hamm said, the next major piece of gun legislation to be heard in Congress is likely to be a Republican-backed bill to immunize gunmakers from lawsuits brought by victims of gun crimes.

Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@mcclatchydc.com.

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c_yeager
April 10, 2005, 04:40 AM
Gun-control advocates aren't ready to concede, arguing that next-generation safety locks and futuristic gun technologies that identify users by their hand grip could have made a difference, had the gun industry embraced them.

Thats odd, last time I checked all the proposed "smart gun" legislation has made specific exceptions for law enforcement. And I guarantee that no police force int he country is going to give their officers some kind of funky "smart gun" that may or may not work when they need it to.

Tom Servo
April 10, 2005, 01:43 PM
Top Republicans are loath to do anything that could restrict gun rights, and Democratic leaders -- still smarting from recent election reverses -- aren't eager to advertise themselves as the antigun party either.
And why is that? Could it be because the majority of American people oppose more stringent gun-controls? Isn't that the way it's supposed to work?

Andrew Rothman
April 10, 2005, 08:55 PM
Democratic leaders -- still smarting from recent election reverses -- aren't eager to advertise themselves as the antigun party either.

They still want to be the antigun party, mind you. They just don't want to advertise it.

Standing Wolf
April 10, 2005, 09:57 PM
"The gun lobby has successfully fought advances in this technology," said Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "If they hadn't, we'd have the technology by now."

Well, heck, yes! Smith & Wesson would have found the cure for cancer by now, and Ruger would have developed a cheap, clean, infinitely renewable replacement for oil, and Colt... Well, never mind Colt, but Glock would have brought peace to the Middle East, if only that mean old "gun lobby" hadn't resisted technological developments.

Whatever those people are smoking for breakfast, I hope the D.E.A. doesn't find out about it.

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