POLITICS OF TERRORISM IMPEDE NEW GUN CONTROL INITIATIVES

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Federal gun control legislation is taking a back seat to concerns about terrorism and Democrats’ reluctance to press the issue, says a senior Republican staffer in the House.

Gun control’s lower profile means that it’s “anybody’s guess” whether the federal ban on some assault-style weapons will be extended past its scheduled expiration next year, chief counsel Jay Apperson of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security told a Justice Department conference yesterday.

Apperson was alluding to reports that some Democrats in tight races had found that advocating gun controls did not play well politically.

The subdued debate on guns may affect other legislation offered from either side of the partisan aisle, Apperson said. That includes Democrats’ efforts to regulate gun show sales further and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s attempt to overrule the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. Ditto for a proposal to allow law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons across state lines. Pointing out that House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner opposes the measure, Apperson said that it “might be more harmful than helpful to have Barney Fife come into some jurisdictions” armed.

Also at the conference, prominent researchers debated what studies show about guns and crime. Public Policy Prof. Philip Cook of Duke University said that overall there is about one gun per adult in the United States, but they are far from evenly distributed: About 10 percent of the population owns 77 percent of the firearms.

Public health expert Garen Wintemute of the University of California at Davis presented gun tracing data he said shows that a little over 1 percent of federally licensed firearms dealers accounts for 57 percent of guns traced to the source from crime cases.

However, Paul Blackman, research coordinator of the National Rifle Association, declared that tracing data are available in so relatively few cases that they are “utterly worthless” for evaluating crime trends.

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