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Don't Clip Weapons Ban

LOST in the high-caliber crossfire over the assault-weapons ban in the crime bill now pending in the Senate is this: It specifically protects the rights of law-abiding citizens to own 650 types of guns. Those who enjoy using guns for hunting or target shooting, and those who feel that owning a gun protects them from crime, will continue to choose from a wide array of firearms - handguns, rifles, shotguns - by a wide number of manufacturers with a variety of lethal features.

Indeed, some gun-control advocates might argue that the legislation should be styled ``the gun owners' protection bill.'' A larger worry than whether Republicans will succeed in removing the ban on 19 kinds of assault-type weapons is that the public will perceive that the measure represents a large step toward a solution to gun violence. In reality, it is only a small, but positive, step.

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Most Americans know they have no need of a Kalashnikov AK-47 with a ``banana'' ammunition clip and rapid-fire ability; or a Street Sweeper revolving cylinder semiautomatic shotgun; or an Uzi submachine gun, even in its semiautomatic form. And police don't want to face these weapons in the hands of criminals. As Rep. Charles Schumer (D) of New York put it: ``These guns are plainly and simply killing machines. They have no place, no place at all, in a civilized society.''

Just as the assault-gun ban is a small step against gun violence, so is the crime bill only one step against the larger foe.

``Small'' may seem odd in reference to legislation with a $30.2 billion price tag. But the sad truth is it is only a fraction of the effort that will be needed.

What the crime bill represents is the kind of double-barreled approach - containing both preventive and enforcement measures - favored by most Americans. It isn't perfect; little that makes its way out of Washington is. It won't begin to solve the nation's crime problem by itself - the largest part of that effort must come at the local level. But it does signal embattled police and frightened citizens that the cavalry is on the way.

If Republicans succeed in reopening the bill to new amendments, it will backfire against the nation's crime-fighting effort. The bill would then have to shuttle back to the House for yet further debate and changes. The process would drag on and on and, most likely, sputter into oblivion.

That's no way to fight crime.

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