Tuesday, February 9, 1999

Progress on fireworks
measure in Legislature

THE ban on fireworks approved by two state Senate committees would be a decided improvement over the current chaotic situation if enacted. But the bill, as passed by the Judiciary Committee and the Transportation and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, contains disturbing loopholes.

fireworks The measure would be effective on Jan. 2, 2000 -- leaving the use of fireworks in the millennium celebration unaffected. The idea, one senator explained, was to spare fireworks distributors who are building up their stocks for the millennium from being stuck with material that had been declared contraband.

That solicitude for the distributors comes at the expense of the public, who would be expected to endure another New Year's Eve of horrendous smoke and noise, with concurrent breathing and hearing difficulties, and risk of fire damage and injury. Indeed, fireworks use for 2000 probably would be even heavier than last New Year's, which may have been the heaviest ever.

Another problem is the proposed exemption for cultural and religious purposes. Permits issued by the counties would be required. But a representative of the Honolulu Police Department wondered whether a group of fireworks enthusiasts would be able to establish a self-described religious group and qualify for an exemption. Safeguards are needed to prevent such abuses.

The bill would allow county governments to exempt themselves from the statewide ban -- another glaring loophole. Admittedly, the fireworks problem is most severe on Oahu, which has most of the state's population. But allowing fireworks in other counties would make enforcement more difficult on Oahu. These defects should be removed before final passage. The Legislature should end what Governor Cayetano called the "utter madness" of the fireworks usage last New Year's Eve.

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Jordan’s King Hussein

THE death of King Hussein of Jordan removes a stabilizing influence from the volatile Middle East political scene and creates fresh concern over the possibility of lasting peace. Hussein was a master of maintaining his balance and the survival of his kingdom by leaning with the political winds. His reign as Jordan's monarch for nearly half a century, following the assassination of his grandfather, was something of a miracle in a region where such killings are a constant threat.

Although he sometimes aligned his country against Israel, Hussein made peace with the Jewish state in 1994, when the Palestinian-Israeli accords made it feasible to do so. But long before that he conferred secretly with Israeli leaders in search of a formula for co-existence. Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1949 and governed its Palestinian population until losing that area in 1967 in the Six-Day War.

Over the years Hussein emerged as one of the most responsible and respected leaders of the Arab world. It is a commonplace to say that a person's deathleaves a void that will be difficult to fill, but in Hussein's case the observation is fully justified.

Hussein's successor, his son Abdullah, is an unknown quantity and his ability to hold power against the challenges he is likely to face is questionable. The United States, concerned about a possible shift in Jordan's policies that could affect the balance of power in the Middle East, will do what it can to encourage Abdullah to maintain his father's moderate policies. Further complicating the situation, the leadership of Israel is clouded by the current election campaign and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is believed to be in declining health.

The ultimate outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains in doubt. Partial implementation has failed to strengthen mutual trust -- the essential component of real peace. Hussein might have helped establish that trust as an intermediary respected by both sides. With him gone, there is no figure in sight in the Middle East who can play that role.


Gun control

THE five-year-old Brady Law requires anyone trying to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer to be subject to a federal background check. However, a loophole has allowed thousands of firearms to be sold without background checks at gun shows that are exempt from the law. President Clinton is supporting legislation to end the exemption. The justification for maintaining it is weak.

Guns were sold last year at 4,442 such shows around the country -- 472 in Texas alone -- attended typically by up to 5,000 people paying admission fees starting at $5. A survey of 314 recent investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms involving 54,000 firearms linked to gun shows revealed that nearly half of the investigations involved felons buying or selling firearms. In more than one-third of the cases, the firearms were known to have been used in subsequent crimes.

Clinton says the review proves that gun shows are "a cash-and-carry convenience store for weapons used to maim and kill." Exempting them from checks needed to detect sales involving people with criminal records make no sense.

Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., head of the National Rifle Association, argues that the loophole is insignificant because only four prosecutions have resulted from illegal dealings at gun shows. However, the small number of prosecutions was caused not by the low level of illegal activity but by insufficient enforcement efforts. Clinton's proposed budget for fiscal 2000 would correct that, including $24 million for ATF enforcement and the hiring of 120 new agents to help inspect gun shows.

The loophole has become an easy path for criminals trying to purchase guns without being detected. The NRA's support of it is lame, based on little more than its predictable and tiresome opposition to all forms of firearm regulation.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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