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The Assault on Common Sense : Why in the world does even the NRA need to protect these weapons?

Many members of Congress who opposed the Clinton Administration’s crime bill before it finally passed the House Sunday focused their objections on the cost and merit of the big-ticket social programs in the measure. But the furious lobbying against the bill over the weekend by the National Rifle Assn. made it clear beyond any doubt that the real issue at stake was the federal assault weapons ban. That the heavily compromised crime bill survived with this important provision intact speaks volumes about a coalescing national demand for limits on the now out-of control possession of firearms.

So too does the resignation of Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) Sunday from the NRA board. Dingell, an NRA member since 1968, voted for the crime bill even though he opposes the assault ban. The modified package, he said, was in “the best interests of the country as a whole.”

NRA members have an absolute right to the views they hold, of course, and their organization still wields fearsome power in Washington and in state capitals. Summary defeats of worthy gun control measures this year in Sacramento can be laid squarely at the feet of the NRA.

But if defeats of such legislation demonstrate the group’s enduring power, then events such as passage of the House crime bill signal growing public frustration with its opposition to even modest gun regulations. Passage of the Brady bill last year, imposing a waiting period between purchase and possession of a handgun so that states can check the background of prospective owners, was a six-year odyssey, blocked at virtually every turn by the NRA.

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The assault gun ban prohibits the manufacture and sale of 19 kinds of assault weapons. It also outlaws generic features including pistol grips, folding stocks and high-volume detachable ammunition magazines. Guns with these features are not designed for hunting, although some hunters do descend to use them, or for protection, although some law-abiding citizens now own them for that reason. They are designed to commit mayhem and that’s exactly what they do all too often.

The crime package now returns to the Senate for final action. There the assault ban faces yet more withering pressure from the NRA’s Senate allies, including Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Ida.), another NRA board member. We only hope that Sens. Craig, Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and others who say they will try to block the bill, will, like Rep. Dingell, eventually distinguish between the best interests of the NRA and those of the nation.


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