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Wed, Oct. 16

Strict enforcement remains the solution

P.T. Barnum was a master at parting gullible people from their money. The Clinton Administration, in its unending quest for more restrictive gun laws, is a master at parting gullible people from their common sense.

Barnum and Clinton work on the assumption of "how can we fool 'em today?"

It works because a lot of Americans don't own guns. Thus, when Clinton says all he wants is "common sense" legislation to make guns safer and keep guns out of the wrong hands, people lacking first-hand knowledge make two fatal assumptions.

First, they assume he's telling the truth about what the proposed legislation would do. Second, they assume that just one more administration proposal will make crime and violence go away. Big mistake – on both counts.

First, Clinton's new proposals would harass law-abiding gun owners and restrict their rights while doing little to stop career criminals. Second, gun control laws don't work, especially not without enforcement. The nation has 22,000 gun laws. Crime and violence will not disappear magically no matter what one's philosophy, but any law is worthless if authorities don't enforce it.

Clinton has said the Brady Bill's criminal background check of anyone seeking to buy a firearm has kept 200,000 unqualified buyers from getting guns. That's true as far as it goes. It's a federal crime for an unqualified buyer even to try to buy a gun. It's another federal crime to lie on a purchase form. The law may have turned away 200,000 unqualified buyers, but fewer than 100 of those left the gun store to find authorities waiting to arrest them and prosecute them. That basically tells convicted felons to go ahead and try their luck at a gun store; the worst that can happen is the embarrassment of a denial. Then the felon can steal a gun or buy one on the black market.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 358-60 to approve the "Project Exile Act." The bill, which gets its name from a highly successful Richmond, Va., project, will provide $100 million in grants to communities which strictly enforce laws against people who use guns in crimes.

In Richmond, state, municipal and federal authorities joined forces to make sure than anyone who used a gun in a crime does time. Federal authorities try all firearms violations which carry a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison without parole and longer sentences for repeat offenses or aggravated offenses. Murders in Richmond dropped from 140 in 1997 to 94 in 1998 and 32 in the first six months of 1999. As of June 1999, 279 gun-carrying criminals were doing hard federal time.

Democrats call the Project Exile bill, which now goes to the Senate, too little and demand bans on importing high-capacity magazines, barring juvenile possession of assault weapons and prohibiting young people with criminal records from owning handguns. They also want background checks at gun shows.

The millions of people who may not think they have a dog in this fight should pay attention to one thing: Project Exile has a proven track record of putting criminals in prison and reducing crime.

Even if Congress gives Democrats everything they want, the result will be only so much more wind if they enforce those laws no more diligently than they have the Brady Bill.

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