June 1999

Fallout From Littleton

The latest school shooting has fostered a new set of regulatory proposals from anti-gun activists, which includes the president, of course. There is no pretty way to describe what Bill Clinton did in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre — plain and simple, it was political ambulance chasing. He climbed up on the graves of 13 innocent teenagers to advance his anti-gun agenda at their, and our, expense. Would that he had the manners of Charlton Heston, who chose not to comment about gun issues out of respect for the families. Oh, well, this president oozes plenty of things, but honor isn’t one of them.

Instead, half-baked policy throwaways are Clinton’s mainstay, especially when they can be delivered with a trembling lower lip. Among his most-recent spate of gun-control initiatives were the following items, some of which, frankly, we’re going to have trouble with:

• Background checks on buyers at all gun-show sales. Our take: Oddly, many retail gun dealers are in favor of this provision, since it levels the playing field with “car trunk” gun sellers. It may come to pass. Bad outcome: A registration list of all gun buyers could be the eventual result.

• Raising the legal age for handgun possession from 18 to 21, and banning juvenile possession of certain semiautomatic rifles. Under these laws, your son or daughter will commit a felony as soon as they touch a handgun or restricted semi-auto, unless they have a written note of permission from parents on their person while engaging in the handgun target practice. Our take: Members of the gun industry have already agreed to this idea, so it will likely happen.

• Mandatory prison sentences of three to 10 years and $10,000 fines for adults, including parents, who allow children access to guns. Our take: For family members this is a long shot, since crimes of the children generally can’t be laid at the doorstep of the parents. But “straw man” gun purchasers are a different matter, and they should be prosecuted.

• Mandatory “safety locks” on all guns sold (see page 25 for a test of gun locks.) Our take: About 80 percent of all new guns sold already have locks provided, so this seems like a fait accompli.

• Making buyers of explosives subject to the same Brady law background checks as gun purchasers. Our take: This is unwieldy, since gasoline, propane tanks, and fertilizer could qualify as explosives. Worse outcome: Limiting the initiative to gun powders.

• Limiting individual handgun purchases to one per month. Our take: We’ll have to fight this one off, since people who don’t like guns can’t conceive of buying even a gun a year.

Overall, the criminals in Littleton, Colorado, broke at least 19 gun laws in perpetuating their crimes. In our opinion, adding another gun law (or more) wouldn’t have made any difference.

-Todd Woodard