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Remember Gun Control?

After four years of George W. Bush, the notions that some people might be too dangerous or unstable to trust with a firearm or that assault weapons do not belong in civilized society are deader than a wild turkey in hunting season.

During Bush’s first campaign, a National Rifle Assn. leader quipped, “If we win, we’ll have a president where we work out of their office.” How right he was.

Over the last four years, the president and his congressional allies have repudiated or quietly eviscerated key gun laws and regulations. Now they are poised to shield firearms makers and sellers from nearly all damage claims when their products kill or maim. Not only is this a gift no other industry enjoys, it’s a truly bad idea that even gun owners have reason to oppose.

Last year, Republican congressional leaders simply ran out the clock on the 10-year-old federal assault gun ban, refusing to even call a vote on renewing it despite steady popular support for the law. Bush, who once claimed that he supported the ban, refused to make so much as a phone call to his House or Senate allies to keep it alive. With it died the ban on domestically made ammunition clips with more than 10 rounds, a boon for any disgruntled employee, terrorist or high school student who wants to mow down a crowd. The president also signed a bill that requires the destruction within 24 hours of all records from background checks of gun buyers. And Congress required the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to keep secret the data that tracks weapons used in crimes.

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Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office study examining FBI and state background-check records found that 35 people whose names appeared on terrorism watch lists were able to buy a gun. Incredibly, a would-be buyer’s presence on a watch list does not disqualify him or her from buying a firearm. Because background-check data now must be promptly destroyed, it is impossible to know how many more terrorism suspects might be lawfully armed.

The immunity bill, introduced by Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), would protect gun manufacturers and sellers from damage suits by victims of gun violence. It would even block injury suits from gun owners. That means gun owners can’t sue if poorly made handguns explode in their hands or fire unintentionally. In many instances, the bill would shield gun dealers who allow criminals to buy a firearm, by severely weakening the ATF’s ability to shut down unscrupulous dealers.

This reckless measure, long on the NRA’s wish list, has come before Congress before, but enough lawmakers balked. This time, emboldened by last November’s GOP victories, there looks to be less resistance. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) says he’s ready to call for a floor vote any time. Unless voters speak up.


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