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Political Animal

Shot Down With Facts

By Brian Morton | Posted 10/23/2002

"We are all entitled to our own opinions," former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) once famously opined, "but we are not entitled to our own facts." With that in mind, we will run down a list of facts about the gun debate, nationally and locally, in light of the actions of the sniper stalking the Washington area.

In the interests of full disclosure, Fact: This writer spent two years as a spokesman for Jim and Sarah Brady at the Brady Campaign, and a year on the board of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, a position he resigned upon accepting this columnist position. Pro-gun lobby sympathizers may immediately discount anything written hereafter. But facts do not lie.

Fact: Late in the Friday night of March 22, 1996, long after newspaper and TV deadlines had passed, Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.) and his mentor, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), engineered and passed HR-125, a repeal of the 1994 ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity feed devices. This went for naught when the Senate bill died in the Judiciary Committee.

Fact: During John Ashcroft's confirmation hearings, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Ashcroft about his vote as a senator in 1998 to cut the length of time law enforcement is allowed to keep background-check information. "You have voted to undermine what the FBI maintains is essential to successful operation of the [National Instant Check System]," Schumer said. "How can we be sure that you will work with the FBI to maintain the integrity of the NICS when you have already sided with the gun lobby over the F.B.I.?" Ashcroft's exact answer: "If confirmed, I will be law-oriented."

Fact: May 4, 2001. Attorney General Ashcroft decides to delay for a second time implementation of a Clinton Administration regulation that would keep background-check records for 90 days.

Fact: October 2001. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Mark Earley, in his race against eventual winner Mark Warner, garnered an "A-" grade from the National Rifle Association against Warner's "C." The NRA noted that they would have given him a solid "A" if only he hadn't voted in 1993 for the state's one-gun-a-month law designed to cut down interstate gun trafficking. In the 2000 congressional elections, Maryland representatives Connie Morella and Wayne Gilchrest (both Republicans) got "F" grades from the NRA. Ehrlich received an "A."

Fact: Oct. 30, 2001. Muhammad Navid Asrar, a Pakistani national, pleaded guilty in Texas to immigration charges and to illegal possession of ammunition. The authorities said that in the last seven years, Asrar, an illegal immigrant, had bought several weapons at gun shows, including a Sten submachine gun, a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, two pistols, and a hunting rifle.

Fact: Dec. 5, 2001. Ashcroft tells the Senate, "Each action taken by the Department of Justice . . . is carefully drawn to target a narrow class of individuals: terrorists."

Fact: Dec. 5, 2001: The New York Times reports the Justice Department refused to let the FBI check gun records to see if any of the 1,200 people detained after Sept. 11 had bought guns. The Times also reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms requested in September to check a list of 186 detainees against NICS records. The check recorded two "hits," meaning two detainees had been approved for gun purchases. The day following the Times reports, Justice Department lawyers stopped the practice.

Fact: Dec. 6, 2001: Under questioning about the policy from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), as reported by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, Ashcroft says, "The answer is simple: The only permissible use for the national check system is to audit the maintenance of that system, and the Department of Justice is committed to following the law in that respect."

Fact: January 2002: Ashcroft announces that due to his acceptance of more than $50,000 from Enron during his 2000 Senate race he will recuse himself from the investigation of the failed Texas energy giant. Despite receiving more than $370,000 from the gun lobby, Ashcroft does not recuse himself from decisions regarding the administration's gun policies.

Fact: Sept. 13, 2002: Ehrlich tells The Sun that he would "review" the state's gun laws "to see what's working." The two programs he mentions: the state's new ballistic fingerprinting law and the Handgun Roster Board, which sets the standard for what is considered to be cheap "Saturday Night Specials" and was part of the law that created the state's assault-weapon ban.

Fact: Oct. 2, 2002: A sniper using what police believe to be a semiautomatic assault rifle shooting .223-caliber bullets goes on to shoot 12 people, killing nine, over the course of 20 days (figures as of press time).

Fact: Oct. 8, 2002: Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown points out that the newsletter of the Illinois State Rifle Association states: "Far be it from us to advance conspiracy theories, but the timing of this sniper activity is unsettling. . . . Maryland has one of the hottest governor's races in the country, certainly hotter than that in Illinois. The central theme of the Maryland race is gun control. Things heat up. There is this off the wall series of sniper killings. Murder made to order for the antigunners. Hmmm, weren't there some other high-profile mass gun killings at strangely convenient times?"

Richard Pearson, the association's president, defends the newsletter's implication to Brown: "There does seem to be some strange correlation. We wonder about these things sometime. We know how unscrupulous the other side can be. There are all kinds of theories like that."

Those are some facts. Make up your own minds.

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