Bush fiddles with crime bill, and we keep killing each other


It must have come as a great comfort to the citizens of Baltimore that President Bush wishes to fight crime in America by imposing the death penalty for treason and espionage.

It must be a great solace to those for whom a trip to the supermarket can be a life-or-death proposition that our president wishes to fight crime by restricting the appeals of death row inmates.

George Bush's new crime bill, which he wants Congress to pass in the next 100 days as a test of his postwar popularity, also contains all sorts of "crime-fighting" techniques like changing the rules of evidence and making it easy to deport aliens.

One thing it ignores, however, is removing the deadliest guns from our neighborhoods. Bush, a life member of the National Rifle Association, seems to have skipped over that one.

Semiautomatic assault weapons, which police departments across America agree are the "weapons of choice" for drug traffickers and street gangs, are not mentioned in the Bush crime plan.

Even though a Cox newspaper study found that semiautomatic assault weapons are 20 times more likely to be used in a crime than conventional firearms, Bush seems unworried about their effect on American life.

That may be because gun bans, even ones on guns nobody needs for target shooting or hunting, upset powerful lobbying groups like the NRA.

And it is much less controversial to speed the electrocution of five guys on death row, for instance, than it is to try to save the lives of five children in a schoolyard.

That's how many children were killed in Stockton, Calif., in 1989 by a man with a semiautomatic assault rifle. He wounded 29 other children as he sprayed the schoolyard with 106 rounds in less than two minutes.

Bush banned foreign-made assault rifles after that, and his new bill would ban the sale of gun magazines that contain more than 15 rounds. But he opposes a ban on domestic semiautomatic assault rifles. This makes no sense and will cost lives.

A few weeks ago in Baltimore, two people were killed and two others wounded in a spray of semiautomatic weapon fire in one of the city's "drug-free zones."

Bush's way to stop such crimes is the NRA way: increase prison terms for gun crimes.

Swell. But that alone is not enough. Why not? Take a look at what is happening in America:

By the end of last year, there were more than a million people in U.S. prisons, a record number. On a percentage basis, America has more criminals in prison than any country in the world.

Yet gun crimes continue to rise at the same time the prison population rises.

Obviously, prison is not enough. We have to get rid of the guns, too. We have to get them off the streets. And out of our homes.

Yes, our homes. In last Sunday's Sun, in a story by Rafael Alvarez and S. M. Khalid, there was a particularly chilling interview with a Pikesville businessman, who was eating hamburgers with his wife and four children at the Big Boy's on Reisterstown Road at the Beltway.

His response to gun crime in the area was to buy a gun himself. "You're talking about guys with shotguns and semiautomatics," the man said. "That's dangerous."

Alas, so is keeping a gun around the house. According to Vinny DeMarco, president of the board of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse: "Unfortunately, statistics show that a gun in a private home is forty-three times more likely to be used against a member of the family than in self-protection."

What we need to do as a nation -- since the Maryland General Assembly seems unwilling to do it as a state -- is to ban the sale of all completely unnecessary guns, starting with semiautomatic assault rifles, shotguns and pistols.

Bush realizes what a murderous country America has become. As he pointed out a few days ago: "During the first three days of the ground offensive [in the Persian Gulf], more Americans were killed in some American cities than at the entire Kuwaiti front."

The solution, however, is not just tougher sentencing. The solution is to rid ourselves of these high-powered weapons of destruction.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., who has his own crime bill, said recently: "If the president would join the Congress in banning the murderous weapons that are killing police officers, children and countless innocent bystanders, we could easily pass a comprehensive gun bill."

So let's spend the next 100 days doing that. And within a short time we may all see the results:

People in Baltimore might be able to go out to buy groceries without wishing they had bought body armor first.

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