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The battle over gun control: the black community has the greatest stake in the outcome of the gun control debate.

In an effort to curb gun violence, black elected officials and organizations are using political muscle to push for gun control legislation.

The battle, being waged on both the federal and state levels, could lead to a political showdown this Congressional session between gun control advocates and opponents. President Bill Clinton says he will sign a gun control act if one is passed.

State actions have led the effort. Last March, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder signed legislation limiting the state's residents to one handgun purchase a month, starting July 1. Previously, there was no limit on gun purchases. Wilder had spent months shoring up votes for the bill, which was opposed by the National Rifle Association. Ronald Hampton, director of the National Black Police Association, which supports gun control efforts, said that the law enforcement community and city officials of Washington, D.C., had long argued that the city's high crime rate was aggravated by the absence of gun control laws in neighboring Virginia.

Nationally, the NAACP has launched a campaign to push for enactment of the so-called Brady bill. The bill was named for James S. Brady, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt against the President Brady and his wife, Sarah, are the best-known advocates of gun control. Last March, the NAACP joined with the Bradys to urge Congress to pass the bill. The bill includes a mandatory five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, allowing police to do background checks. Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, says, "Civil rights also includes the right to be safe in your community. Those other rights become secondary if you don't have the first right - the right not to be harmed."

Henderson adds that the black community must take the lead on an issue that disproportionately affects black youth. "We have a particular responsibility to address the question both for our own survival, and because we have the greatest stake in the outcome of the debate."

Toward that end, the NAACP plans to enlist college students in its Youth Division to lobby in support of gun control. The NAACP is pushing for a gun control act in 1993. In past years, gun control legislation has languished or been incorporated in broader crime packages that invited debate on controversial issues such as the death penalty.

In Congress, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) leadership on the issue has been mixed. Last fall, the CBC joined Sarah Brady, who heads Washington, D.C.-based Handgun Control Inc., in a final thrust for passage of the Brady bill before the end of the Congressional session. The Bush Administration did not support the bill, and it died after Senate Republicans blocked efforts to bring it up for a vote. Last February, the bill was reintroduced by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D.-Maine.

Other gun control-related measures have been introduced, including one pushed by CBC freshman Mel Reynolds, D.-Ill. Reynolds, who represents the South Side of Chicago, was the target of a drive-by shooting during his primary race. Reynolds' bill would hold gun makers and importers liable for injuries and deaths caused by their products. The measure would double the excise tax on firearms and use the revenue to cover the medical costs of uninsured victims. It will be a tough sell, since Congress has been reluctant to hold manufacturers responsible for consumer misuse of products. But Reynolds says, "If we are truly serious about addressing the senseless slaughter taking place in our streets, we must hold people and corporations responsible for their actions, as well as provide relief for those impacted so heavily by the destructive cost of gun violence."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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