Wednesday, August 6, 2003

In the latest display of how far gun control advocates will go to devise new methods to limit law-abiding Americans’ ability to purchase guns, Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat (and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, have come up with a bill giving federal bureaucrats far-reaching authority to regulate gun “safety.” The recently introduced Corzine-Kennedy bill would give the Justice Department the authority “to set minimum safety standards for the manufacture, design and distribution of firearms, issue recalls and warnings, collect data on gun-related death and injury, and limit the sale of products when no other remedy is sufficient,” Mr. Corzine’s Web site says.

The legislation is backed by a coalition of gun control supporters and liberal groups, including the Brady Campaign, the Violence Policy Center, the NAACP, the American Bar Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Consumer Federation of America. As Messrs. Kennedy and Corzine put it, it is simply indefensible that toy guns and teddy bears are subject to safety regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), while guns are not really subject to any serious government regulation. The premise is simply absurd.

Children’s toys, like teddy bears, of course, come with eyes, noses and other tiny parts that can be bitten off and swallowed by very small children. That’s why the CPSC sets standards governing what toys are appropriate for children of a given age and what sort of warning information should be made available to parents. That sort of regulation makes sense to us.

As for guns, they are already subject to plenty of regulation. At present, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is responsible for enforcing page after page of regulations governing the manufacture and use of firearms. (California and some other states enforce yet another layer of regulations on guns and their owners.) Each gun, for example, must be identified by a unique serial number. Gun dealers can be convicted of a felony and sent to jail for failing to keep accurate purchase records, and their businesses are subject to surprise federal inspections. So much for the notion that guns aren’t currently subject to any serious regulation.

A careful reading of the Corzine-Kennedy bill, however, suggests that it would give sweeping powers to an attorney general (particularly if someone like Janet Reno were to assume that position) to make life miserable for anyone involved in the sale or manufacturing of firearms. Title I of the bill would give the attorney general the authority to put forward any regulation he or she deems “reasonably necessary to reduce or prevent unreasonable risk of injury” from a particular gun. Moreover, “any person” would be allowed to petition the attorney general to “require the recall, repair, or replacement of a firearm product, or issuance of refunds with respect to a firearm product.” If there are any limits on such powers, they certainly aren’t apparent from reading the bill.

It speaks volumes that Mr. Corzine, in particular, a rising star among Senate Democrats, has seen fit to lend his name to legislation that would give virtually limitless authority to the federal government to harass law-abiding gun dealers.

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