CHUCK SCHUMER was in the Judiciary Committee hearing room of the
Rayburn House Office Building and his recollection of the place
brought a smile.
This was where, as a House member who was a persistent and crafty
advocate of gun control, Schumer had some memorable jousts with
persistent and crafty representatives of the National Rifle
``I think it was in this very room that we actually had the NRA
admit they wanted people to be allowed to own bazookas,'' Schumer
said with a chuckle.
Schumer, now a senator, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., were in
the hearing room to start another fight with the NRA.
The gun lobby has been saying the president is to blame for kids
killing other kids and misfits of all description stocking up on
weaponry and hunting people down. The means used to obtain these
arsenals have much to do with the cavernous holes in our system for
regulating who can get a gun, and how easily. These holes were cut
wide by the NRA, which does everything in its power to keep and
The gun lobby has a durable grip on Congress. But it is not so
influential with the public at large. People generally do not
comprehend why background checks should not be performed on
purchasers of all guns and why, for example, there should be any such
thing as unregulated gun sales at gun shows or in kitchens or out of
the backs of pickup trucks.
The NRA would like to keep all this just the way it is. But it
would also like to change public opinion. So it has been claiming of
late that the Clinton administration is soft on guns.
Enforcement, it says, is way off. Official statistics actually
show federal and state gun prosecutions are up around the country,
and gun crime down.
But, if you repeat the Big Lie enough, people start believing it.
That is where Schumer and McCarthy come in. They have introduced a
bill to toughen federal gun enforcement and they want the NRA to join
``It answers, in my opinion, all the rhetoric we've been hearing
from the NRA,'' McCarthy said.
The Schumer-McCarthy plan tries to repair the damage the NRA
caused with a 1986 law it wrote that gutted the 1968 federal Gun
Control Act. The plan would try to shrink the enormous network of
unregulated private dealers, giving the Feds greater authority over
them. It would help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
target dirty dealers -- the 1 percent of licensed dealers to whom
nearly half of all guns used in crimes can be traced.
The proposal would shut down an NRA-
backed law that lets convicted felons get back their right to own a
gun, though the very same convicts may never again be allowed to vote
or even work at the mall. It also would expand a program called
Project Exile, in which some gun violators who would normally be
charged with state crimes can be prosecuted and sentenced instead by
The NRA gushes about how successful this program has been in
Richmond, Va. But the group habitually leaves something out. It was
started and is run by a U.S. attorney appointed by none other than
Bill Clinton. This is the part of the Schumer-
McCarthy enforcement package the NRA supports. It wants zero
tolerance for individuals convicted of gun crimes. That is, once they
commit a crime. The NRA's overall policy is roughly akin to getting
tough on cocaine users, ignoring the cartels.
Schumer and McCarthy invite the NRA to get its record on enforcing
the gun laws as robust as its rhetoric. They know enough, though, not
to sit idly by the phone awaiting a response.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle