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Deglamorizing Guns

FRONT-PAGE stories reporting the slaughter in Rwanda have raised the estimate of those killed in three weeks of random gunfire to 200,000 - mostly civilians.

At the same time another story reported on a modest neighborhood operation called Toy Gun Buy Back. In Dorchester, Mass., nearly 100 youngsters turned in their water pistols, cap guns, and sci-fi laser-ray replicas in exchange for Nerf soccer balls and stuffed and friendly dinosaurs.

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An informal survey was conducted among the children. Three out of four had at one time or another heard gunfire in their neighborhood. Half knew someone who had been shot.

What do toy guns in Dorchester have to do with real guns in Rwanda? Cap pistols or assault rifles, in one sense every shot is heard round the world.

The ``gun culture'' knows no boundaries. More firearms are in the hands of more people in more countries than ever before - soldiers, criminals, children of younger and younger ages, and law-abiding citizens hoping to protect themselves from everybody else's guns.

There seems to be something addictive about the civilian ownership of guns, which continues to increase. The possession of a firearm promises empowerment and the end of fear. But all too often, a gun triggers destruction or self-destruction. Ask the mothers of dead children in Dorchester. Ask the survivors in Rwanda, fleeing to Tanzania.

Nobody expects peace to result from the surrender of toy guns in Dorchester, or for that matter, from Operation Guns for Goods in Connecticut, where real guns are being traded for gift certificates, or Guns for Food, in Paterson, N.J., where food vouchers are the medium of exchange.

Even the ban on the manufacture and sale of 19 semiautomatic assault weapons, a resolution that passed the House Judiciary Committee last week, is a token act, dwarfed by the daily detonation of global violence.

But these gestures, small as they may be, constitute a welcome recognition that ancient warrior ideals, particularly when attached to ultramodern weapons, are intolerable on school playgrounds or on city streets, whether in Paterson or Kigali.

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The National Rifle Association used to claim: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. A placard in Dorchester reads: ``Gun users are losers.'' The new slogan may be equally simplistic, but it can hardly be called wrong.

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