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EDITOR’S NOTE ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER GUN STORY

By MELISSA HOUTTE |

In my middle desk drawer sits a .22-caliber semiautomatic in a simple, black-plastic carrying case. This gun is light yet imposing, toylike but threatening. It is the trophy of one writer’s hunt, detailed on page 23 of this issue, and it is in my desk because we wanted to document its existence with a photograph. Soon, before you read this column, I will have turned the gun over to the Dallas Police Department.

But just as easily, this gun could be in the hands of Dallas criminals-and I’m not merely engaging in wild, anti-gun speculation. No, I say that because Kathryn Jones-the writer who bought this gun legally at a flea market-was the victim of an armed robbery in her home only days after turning the gun over to the magazine.

Jones and her husband once headed their neighborhood Crime Watch group, so she was cautious when her doorbell rang one afternoon. First, she looked through the blinds to see who was there. A young woman who reminded Jones of her college roommate stood at the door. A young man stood out on the sidewalk. She opened the door and the woman asked to use the phone, saying their car had broken down. Jones locked the door while she went for her portable phone. While they had the phone, she again locked the door. The next time the doorbell rang Jones was facing a gun. When the couple finally finished ransacking the house, they packed her car with valuables-including her husband’s loaded .38- and drove off. No shots were fired and no one was physically injured, but we all know what could have happened.

Yet the issue of guns is more mired than ever in rhetoric, fear and politics.

I thought I had heard it all in the early ’70s. when a public hearing on a gun-control proposal packed a Miami auditorium. What remains the scariest event of my journalism career brought together newly returned Vietnam veterans, Cubans with revolution still fresh in their minds and many others with less emotional baggage-all taking the same angry stand against any controls.

Almost 20 years later, at a congressional hearing on the Brady bill last spring in Washington, D.C., the atmosphere was less raw but, substantively, nothing had changed. Fresh horror stories, yes. And old horror stories, too, I saw for myself how scarred and misshapen James Brady’s head is because of John Hinckley’s bullets.

The Brady effort has yet to achieve the results he and his wife want, so there is little hope that less visible cases will either. Don’t look for anyone to remember the recent San Antonio case where, after a marital spat, a man went to a department store, bought a gun, came home and killed his wife and himself.

And, of course, in our own back yard a Dallas Police officer was beaten and shot in November. Let’s see how many more times Dallas Police Chief Bill Rathburn has to ask for something as reasonable as a 10- to 15-day waiting period for all firearm purchases.

As Rathburn noted, after the shooting of Sgt. Anthony Crawford: “Everybody was outraged at the massacre in Killeen when 24 people were killed. How many people are outraged because we’ve had 37 people killed in Dallas since the Killeen incident?”

We know guns are a problem, much the way drugs are. Both seem out of control and, more often than not, dangerously interwined. Yet, even the most rudimentary controls seem unattainable, Common sense has been thrown out the window. We seem willing to pay for more police officers and quicker response times, but the police chief lacks the necessary support for something much less expensive. And the current laws are even weaker than most of us have been led to believe. Sure a gun is “registered”-if it’s bought in a store. But in Texas those “registrations” sit in the drawers of the establishment that sold the gun. Forget a computer-indexing network or even a basic, central file in Austin. And, we can still privately buy and sell guns without any paper work changing hands.

The NRA has made it clear that it’s unreasonable and un-American to suggest anything more than what already exists, and many politicians seem to agree. It is unlikely we’ll be seeing any new Texas legislation demanding a waiting period. As for a nationwide registration system or any crosschecking tied to existing FBI records on convicted felons, don’t hold your breath.

Of course, these actions won’t stop violent crime, they won’t stop the circulation of stolen guns, they won’t eliminate fear. But we have to begin somewhere, don’t we?

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EDITOR’S NOTE

By Mike Orren, Associate Publisher and Editorial Dire