The gun lobby 

Last Friday, U.S. senators voted to exempt gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers from being sued if someone was killed with one of their guns, a sort of exception that no other business has in this country. The vote was done to please the National Rifle Association, which provides money for friendly members of Congress who want to run again. If a dealer sells a gun to a halfwit, or operates his business so carelessly that people can steal his guns, or sells guns that don’t operate correctly or are beyond the need of a customer, the dealer can no longer be sued if the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act becomes law. It has to be passed by the House of Representatives when its members come back from a five-week vacation, and surely it will be passed. House members also want money to be re-elected. In 2004, the gun industry through NRA spent in millions in campaigns, 88 percent for Republican candidates. Last year this bill passed in the House but was killed by Democrats in the Senate who kept attaching amendments that the NRA wouldn’t accept. One of the Democrats was minority leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who had always advocated tougher gun control. As a result, the NRA worked hard and managed to defeat Daschle when he ran for re-election last November. Also, with the help of the NRA, four other Democratic Senate seats were filled by Republicans, and Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada where lots of people like guns, took Daschle’s place as minority leader. So you can understand why the NRA law passed last week, 65 to 31. Only two Republicans and 29 Democrats voted against the bill. Surprisingly, 14 Democrats voted yes, and, sadly, two of them were Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, our Arkansas senators. Do they really think that gun makers and sellers should be free of what other businesses have to go through when their products harm people? Some have even said that gun makers should be sheltered because they are supplying what our soldiers need in time of war. However, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was quick to point out that most of the contracts for guns for American armed services are from manufacturers in Austria, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Jordan and Belgium. The gun makers are advertising as never before. NASCAR racer Ryan Newman was given a $65,000 Beretta 12-gauge shotgun etched with his picture when he won a race in Texas. Smith & Wesson runs magazine ads that show a young woman up in a mountain saying: “I hike alone, I bike alone, I climb alone. But with my Smith & Wesson, I’m never alone.” Springfield Armory offers the smallest semiautomatic pistol, which costs $613 equipped with a tiny flashlight for “unexpected encounters in dark alleys.” According to the Wall Street Journal, sales of Smith & Wesson’s new .50-caliber Magnum 500 — called the most powerful handgun on the market — went up when it was said the gun could punch through most police body armor. Many of the 30,000 Americans killed by firearms every year are killed by firearms bought at gun shows. Last year Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tried to amend the NRA bill so that no one could buy a gun at a gun show who had a criminal record, which was to be determined by FBI records on the Internet. The amendment didn’t get anywhere, and McCain has not proposed it this year because he’s thinking about running for president in 2008. But lately, 18 states have passed laws requiring FBI checkups at gun shows. The closest to us is Missouri. Wouldn’t it be good if Senators Lincoln and Pryor on their holiday would say they would like to see Arkansas do what Missouri did. It would be better if, when they go back to Washington next month, they would introduce a bill to require every state to check the background of people who try to buy a gun at gun shows. Everyone knows that Arkansans are crazy about sports. But few know that the coaches at the state colleges are getting new cars free from local car dealers and the state isn’t getting the sales tax. Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found out about it and wrote a front page story. It seems that the Department of Finance and Administration has been after either the dealers or the coaches to pay these taxes, and it aroused Frank Broyles, our sultan of sports, to tell the governor to keep this playhouse in operation. The estimate is that 300 or 400 college employees are enjoying free new cars and paying no taxes. When asked why, Kim Fox, the marketing and advertising manager at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, said it was common practice for athletic department employees to receive such perks at universities. Can you imagine this? These coaches, who work seasons, not years, are being paid as much as $150,000 and probably more if we knew all the goodies. Why can’t they buy their own cars and pay the taxes just like the rest of us?

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