- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

The first thing you have to understand about proposed gun legislation in Washington is that it isn’t necessarily proposed to get passed. Not when it can be used as voter bait during a presidential election.

Anti-gun Democrats have been known to sabotage anti-gun bills so that they can blame Republicans as a means of wooing soccer moms. That happened in 2000 after the Senate passed, then alleged purists in the House killed, a bill that would have required background checks for purchase at gun shows. Democrats bolted — ostensibly in protest of a provision to mandate 24-hour background checks in lieu of 72-hour checks — but the time period that the Democrats seemed the most sensitive to was November 2000.

Republicans, on the other hand, have been known to give lip service to modest gun-control measures, while secretly rooting against them.

In the 2000 campaign, President Bush said he would support an extension of the 1994 assault-weapon ban signed by President Clinton, which will expire on Sept. 13, 2004, unless Mr. Bush signs a measure extending it. White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Mr. Bush stills supports an extension.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mr. Bush, who won the NRA’s endorsement in 2000 despite his support for the gun-ban extension, won’t have to make good on his pledge if Capitol Hill fails to muster the votes to pass a bill. And from the look of things, the big question isn’t whether the 1994 assault-weapons ban will die, but which party will kill it first.

Last week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay suggested the Republican leadership wouldn’t bring the extension to a vote. The next day, Speaker Dennis Hastert said he hadn’t decided what to do.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, is arguing that if Mr. Bush truly meant what he said about the ban during the 2000 presidential race, he would pressure Republican leaders to pass a measure. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer countered that the ban is not at the top of Mr. Bush’s to-do list.

Credit Mrs. Feinstein with proposing a doable bill — an extension with modest additions, such as a ban on imports of magazines with 10 bullets or more. Spokesman Howard Gantman explained, “She feels that we should focus right now on legislation that we could get through the Congress and be signed by the president.”

Reps. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, and Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, on the other hand, have introduced legislation that would widely expand the kinds of guns that would be banned. Smart move — pushing a tougher anti-gun bill in a Republican House — that is, if you want to kill it and wave its carcass in front of voters days before the presidential election.

Joe Sudbay of the anti-gun Violence Policy Center argued in favor of the Conyers-McCarthy measure, saying that it would be “the most effective assault-weapons ban possible.” Sorry, but how effective is a bill that never makes it off Capitol Hill?

No wonder the NRA’s Andrew Arulanandam said, “The real theater of action will be Congress.”

The NRA knows roadkill when it sees it.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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