- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Leave it to Bill Clinton to use tragedy for political gain. In the wake of the recent shooting of a first-grader near Flint, Mich., the president has asked for a meeting with congressional leaders to "break the logjam" that has thwarted his gun-control agenda. How this could have prevented the tragedy caused by a 6-year-old child, whose own life is a story of misery, living in a crack house with multiple felons, is rather hard to see.
"I've asked for support on three other vital measures," the president said. These are "to develop smart guns that can only be fired by the adults who own them; to require that new handgun buyers first get a photo license showing they passed a Brady background check and a gun safety course, and to hire 1,000 new gun prosecutors," he continued.
This page has considered the issue of so-called "smart" gun technology before and found it wanting. A "smart" gun may not work when desperately needed, because the circuitry has failed or become inoperative. Alternatively, it may take a fraction of a second longer to disengage the safety interlock a moment that could easily mean the difference between life and death in a self-defense situation. Properly cared for, a mechanical device such as a revolver or semi-automatic pistol can be depended upon to work properly for decades. Electronics, however, are inherently less durable and degrade over time. How "smart" will a "smart" gun be after sitting in a desk drawer for 10 years? Millions of people keep firearms for self-defense that are rarely, if ever, used for target practice or anything else. They may go unused for years. But when that moment comes when a violent criminal has broken into your home and is rummaging around downstairs you need a weapon that works, even if you haven't looked at it in five years. Unless, of course, it is a "smart" gun and the printed circuit has become corroded or an electric switch has frayed. Then you are out of luck. But that's no big deal for our president; after all, he's doing this to us in order to "protect the children."
As for photo IDs, the problem is that criminals tend not to buy their guns at stores that conduct Brady background checks. A criminal rap sheet, first of all, would preclude the consummation of the sale after the clerk makes a single phone call to the FBI computer, where such records are on file. More significantly, criminals don't pay retail. They get their weapons on the street weapons that are almost always stolen property. A good quality revolver sells for around $250-$350 at the store. A semi-automatic pistol of decent quality will sell for $400 and up; a Browning Hi-Power, for example, typically sells for $700 or more. On the street, these weapons are a much better bargain and there are no waiting periods or background checks. Once again, such measures as the president proposes are useless as a means of dealing with criminals.
And the 1,000 "gun prosecutors"? Will they be devoted solely and exclusively to the pursuit of "gun criminals"? If so, does that mean we are about to witness the creation of a new category of law-enforcement? Is this proposal of a piece with the president's 100,000 cops initiative which financed the creation of new slots for police officers … for a period of a few months, after which the localities had to pick up the tab themselves. Most did not, and reverted to status quo.
"Once again, as has happened for the last seven years, Americans have have had to endure their president's tasteless exploitation of an American tragedy to score political points for himself and Al Gore," quipped a disgusted Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Nicholson. Truer and sadder words were never spoken. Be thankful, at least, that it will all be over less than a year from now.

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