Friday, May 21, 1999

School killings show
need for gun control

Bullet The issue: The need to respond to mass killings at Littleton, Colo., and other schools
Bullet Our view: The nation must make it more difficult for criminals and disturbed persons to obtain firearms.

EXACTLY a month after the killing spree at a Colorado high school and hours after another school shooting in Georgia, the Senate barely approved a Democratic proposal to impose more restrictions on firearms sales at gun shows and pawn shops. Vice President Gore cast the tie-breaking vote, calling the Senate action "a turning point for our country."

The proposal would require mandatory background checks for all transactions at gun shows.

It would also require a mandatory background check for persons seeking to claim their own weapons at pawn shops.

This is a common-sense approach to closing a huge loophole in gun control. Gun shows have gone largely unregulated, providing an easy way to circumvent background checks on sales at gun shops. The pawn shop provision closes another loophole. Earlier the Senate voted to require safety locks or secure containers to be sold with every handgun.

It was the images of the Littleton, Colo., school shooting last month that generated pressure on the Senate to tighten laws governing gun sales. The rash of school shootings has made it more difficult for the National Rifle Association and its allies in the fight against gun control to make a plausible case for their cause. Even so, most Republicans opposed the measures and it was not clear whether they would survive to become law.

The impression that the nation is being engulfed by a tide of teen-age violence is misleading. Despite Littleton and the other school shootings, killings in schools overall have not been increasing. Arrests of juveniles for murder and non-negligent manslaughter declined almost 48 percent between 1993 and 1997 -- from 3,800 to 2,500, out of 10 million youths between the ages of 10 and 17.

However, the need to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and emotionally disturbed people -- whether adolescents or adults -- is obvious, and that can only be achieved by tougher gun control laws.

Hong Kong ruling

Bullet The issue: The Hong Kong government is asking Beijing for help in overturning a court decision on immigration rights.
Bullet Our view: The request gives China an opportunity to intervene in Hong Kong's affairs.

IN the agreement with Britain for the return of Hong Kong, China pledged it would not interfere in the colony's political and economic affairs for 50 years. The first major challenge to that pledge since the 1997 turnover has emerged in a dispute over a Hong Kong court ruling granting residency rights to mainland-born children of Hong Kong residents -- more than one million people.

The Hong Kong government contends that the territory cannot absorb so many immigrants. Its Beijing-appointed chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, decided to ask the Chinese government for help in revoking the court decision, which was based on its interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law. Tung will ask the standing committee of the National People's Congress to "interpret" key provisions of the Basic Law.

The request was criticized as an infringement of Hong Kong's autonomy and the independence of its courts. Hong Kong's legislature supported the decision, 35-2. But 19 pro-democracy representatives, about one-third of the legislature, boycotted the vote, maintaining that it would set a dangerous precedent.

About 600 demonstrators gathered at the legislative building, chanting, "Autonomy is dead. Rule of law is dead. Human rights are dead."

That seems like an overstatement. This situation was not initiated by China, and the court decision could create a real burden for Hong Kong. But the problem does give Beijing an opportunity to intervene in a way that could compromise Hong Kong's autonomy.

Mexican visitor

Bullet The issue: A measure to bar illegal immigrants from receiving health and education benefits strained relations between California and Mexico.
Bullet Our view: The visit of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to California will help improve relations.

ERNESTO Zedillo has become the first president of Mexico to address a joint session of the California Legislature in Sacramento. It was a symbol of the efforts under way to smooth relations between Mexico and the largest community of Mexicans outside the country.

Later in Los Angeles Zedillo spoke of warmer ties with California but called for better treatment of Mexicans living in the state.

Zedillo's host, California Gov. Gray Davis, urged tolerance toward immigrants. He pledged to work toward humane treatment of all immigrants to California, whether legal or illegal.

Since taking office in January, Davis has worked to mend relations with the state's southern neighbor. Former Gov. Pete Wilson infuriated Mexicans by backing Proposition 187, a measure to abolish health and education benefits to illegal immigrants, many of them of Mexican origin. It was approved overwhelmingly by the voters but is tied up in the courts.

California was wrested from Mexico by the United States in the 1846-47 Mexican War, but political separation did not sever cultural and economic ties. With an economy and population larger than many countries, modern California is very important to Mexico, a fact underlined by the president's visit.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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