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A Good Start: No Death From the Sky : LAPD educational effort against using firearms to ‘celebrate’ on New Year’s Eve pays off

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In too many areas of Los Angeles, the crackle of gunfire on New Year’s Eve had become as familiar as the sound of party horns or popping champagne corks. In 1988, the worst year of this deadly ritual, two people were killed and others were injured when bullets fired into the air for “celebration” rained down, striking dozens of innocent people.

Thankfully, 1993 had a far more promising beginning: Not one person died from a falling bullet and there were only 37 weapons-related arrests, about half of last year’s number.

In some areas it was so quiet that the Los Angeles Police Department sent some officers home early.

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A measure of credit for the dramatic reduction must go to Chief Willie L. Williams and the LAPD for mounting an aggressive, communitywide education campaign. The week after Christmas, LAPD officers went door to door to distribute 800,000 flyers in English and Spanish warning against the hazard of New Year’s Eve gunplay. That message was repeated on billboards and posters across the city.

When education failed, tough law enforcement effectively filled the gap. Those caught violating the law lost their weapons to confiscation--mostly antique guns and hunting rifles but also military assault rifles, sawed-off shotguns and pistol-size machine guns.

People might wonder whether this decrease in gunplay on New Year’s Eve will translate into fewer gun-related crimes over the course of the new year. The answer is likely to be no. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office says that preliminary estimates put 1992 homicides at a record high of 2,589--an increase of 188 over 1991. As in past years, the majority of those killings involved firearms.

The pro-gun lobby will point to these statistics as yet another indication that legitimate efforts to curb the seemingly infinite supply and sale of firearms are failures. They argue that the causes of crime are far too complex to be attributable to any one factor, such as the proliferation of guns. This is undoubtedly true, but it is also obvious to any reasonable observer that Los Angeles is drowning in a sea of violence resulting in part from the widespread availability of firearms.

With a new Administration in Washington, the time is ripe for the federal government to act. That means restricting the number of gun dealer licenses, cracking down on the illegal gun trade and continuing to push for passage of the Brady bill. With these kinds of efforts, there may be a glimmer of hope that 1993 will not be another “year of the gun.”

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