The first step


Today is truly an occasion for dancing in the streets: For the first time in history, the House of Representatives has delivered a decisive political defeat to the hitherto invincible National Rifle Association.

By the secure margin of 53 votes, the House late yesterday passed the Brady Bill; six of Maryland's seven representatives stood tall in voting for the measure, with only Rep. Beverly Byron bowing to the bullies of the NRA. We hope that the Senate will now pass the bill by an equally decisive margin, thereby putting pressure of President Bush to back away from his threatened veto of a measure which is supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

But as significant as the victory over the NRA may be, we must recognize that the Brady Bill is only a modest first step toward achieving the kind of gun-control laws which are necessary to make America a safer place to live. The Brady Bill simply requires a seven-day waiting period between application to purchase a handgun and delivery of that weapon. Half the states already mandate a delay in delivery of firearms, and many of these have been shown to work well -- except, of course, that people can still run guns across state borders. Clearly a national law will be more effective in stemming gun commerce.

But let us not delude ourselves: The Brady bill is only a beginning toward meaningful gun control. It may take years to get it, but the only acceptable solution to the pervasive problem of gun violence in America is the adoption of the kind of laws that now apply in virtually every European country -- laws that generally ban handguns altogether and place the most stringent limitations on rifles and shotguns used for hunting and target-shooting.

Until we take these steps, America will remain awash with guns -- and awash in blood.

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