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The year of the Phoenix.

The Phoenix of Greek mythology would, at the end of its life, burst into flame to destroy itself. A new bird, with renewed strength and vitality, would then rise from the ashes to take the place of the old bird which had been destroyed.

Like that great bird of ancient mythology, the gun lobby appeared to be going up in flames earlier in the year as the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate passed their own versions of the Brady Bill with its nationwide waiting period for handgun purchases.

Also like the Phoenix, the gun lobby emerged from the ashes with renewed vigor and strength when on Oct. 17 the House voted 247-177 not to add a ban on 13 models of so-called "assault weapons" and large-caliber magazines to its crime bill.

Television news commentators were shocked, newspaper editorial writers were furious and the anti-gun lobby resorted to its old tactic of attacking the politicians for selling out to the rich gun lobby. The 70-vote margin surprised even pro-gun Washington lobbyists. It was all the more unexpected -- and shocking to the other side -- considering the vote came the day after the cafeteria massacre in Killeen, Texas.

The two 9mm pistols used by the Texas killer were not covered under the bill, and the large-capacity magazines he already owned would not have been banned. Nor would the Brady Bill have prevented the man from purchasing the guns, but that did not prevent the national media from using the killings as a reason to advocate passage of the bill.

During the highly charged floor debate, anti-gunners repeatedly invoked the Killeen incident as proof that "assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines should be banned. The majority of their colleagues obviously disagreed.

Jim Baker, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told the media, "I'm glad the House has decided not to accept a quick-fix solution to the crime problem." He repeated that theme the day after the vote. "I didn't think we'd have that large a margin," Baker said. "I believed we had a 20-to-35-vote edge prior to the Texas tragedy. After that, we couldn't be sure."

Baker noted that before the vote, "We had the evening news people all over the place wanting an interview. But after the vote, they didn't want to talk to us."

John Snyder, director of public affairs and Washington lobbyist for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) said, "We really had to win this one to show that the gun lobby still has clout ... This was a great victory for us."

Sarah Brady, co-chairperson for Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) obviously had been counting on another victory and was irate over the whipping her side took. She said she was "disgusted" by the action and charged that, "There are some of them who are trying to make up for" their vote on the Brady Bill.

Those comments were in sharp contrast to the crowing she and other anti-gunners did back on May 8 when the House rejected the NRS-supported Staggers Instant Check Bill and passed the Brady Bill by a 234-193 margin.

Then Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) boasted, "The stranglehold of the NRA is now broken. They had this aura of invincibility, that they couldn't be beaten. They were beaten handsomely and handily." Five months later Schumer was beaten nearly twice as handsomely and handily.

After that May vote Baker vowed, "We're certainly not going to fold up our tent and go home." And he didn't. A House/Senate conference committee must now iron out the differences between their two respective crime bills. Last year, the Senate narrowly added the DeConcini Bill, which bans the future sale of nine models of "assault weapons" to their crime bill.

Even Associated Press noted, "...the 70-vote margin of defeat in the House virtually assures (the DeConcini Bill's) elimination from whatever compromise bill emerges." Some form of the Brady Bill obviously will be included in that measure.

The conference committee process could run well into the next year. The whole process may be academic in the face of President Bush's threat to veto the entire crime bill.

State Legislation

Of course, not all the big news of the year occurred in Congress. The gun industry continued to become more involved in the political fight to preserve the right to keep and bear arms. One of the speakers at the 1991 Gun Rights Policy Conference in Philadelphia on Sept. 20-21 was Richard Feldman, executive director of American Shooting Sports Coalition (ASSC).

Feldman noted that his group was formed because "the American firearms industry recognized that our customers ... could no longer fight this battle alone."

He pointed out that the industry has started to realize that, "... if they don't roll up their sleeves and join this fight with their customers, there won't be an industry and there won't be any customers."

Much attention also has been focused this year on the refusal of gun owners in California and New Jersey to register their so-called "assault weapons." At last count, approximately 96 percent of them had not registered their guns.

For hundreds of thousands of gunowners in those two states this is an extremely serious matter. They are now pointing to what happened to law-abiding gunowners in New York City as further evidence of why they should refuse to register their guns.

On July 30, the New York City Council passed the worst semiautomatic ban in the country. It outlaws possession of all semiautomatics -- including .22 rifles -- with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds.

For years, law-abiding gunowners in the Big Apple were told that if they'd just register their long guns, they would never have to worry about having them taken away. As this issue of Shooting Industry goes to press, gun groups are organizing massive resistance to this law.

Looking Toward The Future

With 1991 drawing to a close, what can we expect in '92?

"More of the same," Baker said. "We can expect the other side to continue to go after semiautomatic firearms, and if some version of the Brady Bill does not become law, you can certainly expect them to be back with that."

Baker added that he also expects the antis to try some new approaches in '92.

Snyder echoed those same sentiments regarding the prospects for next year. After the Oct. 17 victory, he said, "You have to remember, these people are ideologically committed and are not going to go away just because we stopped them this time."

It will be another year before we know how to label 1992, but 1991 clearly was the Year of the Phoenix.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:In Review: 1991 On Capitol Hill; includes related article; gun legislation
Author:Schneider, Jim
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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