As expected, the Congress decided Monday that it was okay for Americans to buy 19 different kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons -- AK-47s, Uzis, M1 carbines, etc. -- that can fire more than 100 bullets with one load.
In 1994, the Congress passed a bill that prohibited their sale, but the National Rifle Association (NRA), the right hand of the gun manufacurers, was able to get the law amended so that it would expire in 10 years unless the Congress voted to renew it. No attempt to save the law was made on Monday, the last day to vote to keep the sale of those guns illegal, even though the police chiefs of some the nation's biggest cities were saying they didn't want their policemen outgunned on the streets.
In March, the Senate voted 52 to 47 (with both Arkansas senators voting yes) to stop the sale of those weapon and attached it to another bill, which, unfortunately, was defeated along with the amendment. But why didn't the lawmakers try again to vote to keep the law on the books?
Well, the NRA is the most effective lobby in Washington; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told National Public Radio, "The NRA rules here." Presidents and lawmakers are frightened that in an election year some hunters in their states might vote against them even though semiautomatic assault weapons aren't for shooting ducks. Both the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., a former wrestling coach, and the majority leader of the Senate, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who, if you can believe it, is a surgeon, refused to bring the bill to a vote.
Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the majority leader of the House, said that even if President Bush had asked him to bring up the bill, "it would still be no." After all, DeLay used to be an exterminator before he became a politician.
Many lies are often told about stopping the sale of these assault weapons. DeLay, for example, likes to say that stopping the sale of these weapons was simply a "feel-good piece of legislation." But the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that analyzes FBI data, says that these assault weapons were used in the killing of 41 of the 211 police who died in the United States in three years. The Department of Justice reports that since 1995 the number of assault weapons traced to crimes has dropped by 65 percent.
Republicans and NRA members like to say that most Americans consider it their right to buy and keep any kind of a gun, and, therefore, a majority were against any laws that kept them from buying assault weapons. Last week a poll of 4,959 Americans throughout the country by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania showed that 68 percent of the people wanted to continue to have a law that would prohibit the purchase of assault weapons. And even 32 percent of NRA members said the same thing.
And there's also nothing to the argument that it's only the Democrats who want to prohibit the sale of these guns. The only reason the 1994 law passed was because former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. H. Bush were calling Republican members of Congress and telling them to vote yes.
+ + +
Last month the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock finally awarded a contract for the building of the bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Murray Lock and Dam connecting the walking and bicycle trails in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The bridge will cost more than $11 million and will take two years to complete. It will be longest bridge of its kind in the nation.
Connecting good and interesting trails across a wide river will create an attraction that will be extremely popular with local walkers and bikers and will attract many from out of town because this is an unique ride that will even be open at night. The North Little Rock trail is especially interesting with its old quarry and red bluffs.
There's also another bridge project that's been put off almost as long as the other one – the rehabilitation of the old Rock Island bridge from the Clinton Presidential Library to North Little Rock. Hopes were that it would be ready when the library opens in November, but nothing has been done to the bridge.
The primary problem is North Little Rock's. What's the city going to greet people with after they have walked or biked off the bridge? North Little Rock owns about eight acres at its end of the bridge, and it has to build an exit from the bridge and dress up the land. This walkway could bring more visitors into North Little Rock than those who come to see the Razorback submarine that has received all the city's energy for two years.
Newspaper photographers never get much money or attention. I know because I got my first job as one in the 1940s. In 1957, a guy named Will Counts learned it when he made the best pictures of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School.