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Guns and Moses

Give congress credit for trying to address the problem of youth violence. But the House's passage last week of a juvenile-justice bill and its rejection of a companion gun-control measure, show the difficulty of building consensus around legislative solutions.

With both parties deeply split, members rejected many of the Republican-sponsored proposals aimed at violent entertainment. The only measure to pass would permit posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and public facilities.

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On the separate gun-control bill, a coalition of gun-control opponents led by senior Democrat John Dingell of Michigan approved a proposal for background checks at gun shows that was weaker than the Senate version. Then dissatisfied gun-control advocates joined determined opponents to defeat the bill itself. Gun-control provisions could find new life when lawmakers meet in conference.

On the political front, Democrats will try to make the GOP pay for refusing to enact the Senate's gun measures (which passed only when Vice President Gore broke a tie). Republicans will try to exploit Democrats' unwillingness to take on Hollywood.

In the end such measures alone will not prevent the youth violence and school shootings that have so concerned the nation. Existing gun-control laws are poorly enforced. And while loopholes must be closed, youths who wish to break the law will still be able to get firearms.

What's needed are parents who impart love and values to children so they have no temptation to pick up a gun. All adults in this country need to ask themselves what kind of example they set for the children around them.

We sympathize with the motive of those who voted to post the Ten Commandments in public schools. But it's not at all clear the measure can pass constitutional muster, even should the Senate go along, which is doubtful. In any event, simply exposing children to the externals of religion is not enough.

Spiritual values must be taught in homes and religious institutions, beginning well before children reach school age. Prayers must be lived, not just recited. In the end, the Ten Commandments must be engraved on the heart, not on the schoolhouse wall.

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