- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

A Democrat's bill that would link stricter gun laws to national security concerns appears dead on arrival in the Senate, a fact that some see as evidence of the decline of the gun-control movement.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, said yesterday that "chances are slim" for success of his bill, which would extend the time allowed for background checks on gun buyers during periods of heightened security alerts.
"Desperation breeds brazenness," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association, calling the Lautenberg bill an effort to "exploit the fear of terrorism."
The bill would suspend current laws that give police three days to complete background checks of those attempting to purchase firearms and suspend mandated destruction of records of those checks unless the terror alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security is at Code Green, the lowest level.
The United States has been under at least Code Yellow, or "elevated," status since the five-level terror-alert system was instituted in March 2002 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Arulanandam said Mr. Lautenberg's proposal would have the effect of suspending the law permanently and was an effort to make the registration of all firearms the law of the land.
While acknowledging his bill has little chance of passage, Mr. Lautenberg said it is important to take on the powerful NRA.
"We know that the NRA packs a wallop here," said Mr. Lautenberg, among the Senate's most determined champions of gun-control laws. "They come marching into many of these offices without knocking first things that we would prohibit by law, normally. They tread where innocents fear to go. So the chances are slim, but the value [of the bill] is real."
Gun control's value as a political issue, however, has been in decline for almost a decade, said Matthew Bennett, spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety (AGS), a group that supports gun licensing and registration. Democrats are the worse for it, he said, after misreading the electorate on the issue in the 2000 presidential election.
After shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999, "Democrats ran to support [firearm] licensing and registration, which was seen as extreme," Mr. Bennett said. "After the [2000 presidential election], many blamed [Vice President Al] Gore's position on guns for his loss of Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia."
Another sign of the waning influence of gun control, Mr. Arulanandam said, is the fact that two of the most prominent groups Handgun Control Inc. and the Million Mom March have consolidated into one entity. Handgun Control Inc. changed its name in October 2001 to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"They have to use poll-tested monikers to hide what their real agenda is, a ban on handguns for law-abiding citizens," Mr. Arulanandam said.
That contention is disputed by Eric Howard, spokesman for the Brady Campaign, named for Sarah Brady, whose husband was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. Mr. Howard said that when current events call attention to gun violence, the public rallies to his group's cause.
"People in Congress who haven't been affected by gun violence, it's easy for them to ignore it," Mr. Howard said. "But when the public is attuned to it, their awareness rises."
Some critics have called Republicans "the handmaidens of the NRA," but even gun-control activists see little evidence that defending firearms ownership has hurt the Republican Party at the ballot box.
"There is some truth to that," AGS' Mr. Bennett said. "But this comes in cycles, and Republicans would be foolish to think they have found the answer in the NRA's extreme position on this issue."
The Senate is expected to approve a bill that would limit class-action lawsuits against gun manufacturers if a third party uses a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Mr. Howard predicted that debate on this issue would turn public opinion and then a majority of the Senate against the legislation.
"The more dialogue on this, the better," said Mr. Howard. "This is an issue that the public is impacted by and frustrated with. I think you'll see a lot more dialogue, and that is exactly what the NRA doesn't want."

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