CONGRESS WATCH : Shot in the Back

Reason defines the public good. To be credible, therefore, government regulation must be rational--whether its object is a savings and loan or a firearm.

That's why criticism of the Bush Administration's decision to allow the import of six modified weapons of military origin is wide of the mark. The semiautomatic firearms at issue were among those covered by a ban on the import of assault weapons imposed last year. They include the AK-47 and the Israeli-made Uzi. Now, their manufacturers have submitted new prototypes for federal approval, and officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms say the modifications make them eligible for import.

The characteristics that make a military-style assault weapon intolerably dangerous are those designed purely for use against human beings. These include flash suppressors, folding stocks, pistol grips and large capacity detachable magazines.

Without these features, these semiautomatic rifles are no different from sporting weapons that have been generally available in this country for many years.

Rather than quibbling over this distinction without a difference, Congress should press ahead with a ban on the domestic manufacture, import or sale of all firearms with the easily identifiable characteristics of military-style assault weapons. That, coupled with a prohibition on detachable magazines with a capacity exceeding five rounds, would virtually eliminate this deadly problem.

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