WITH THE Senate now on record as approving a ban on certain semiautomatic assault-style weapons, the work of the House on this issue takes on new importance. Today, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up its bill, which enjoys strong support from police and every other law enforcement group in the country. What more and more lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol are concluding now is that they should make distinctions between weapons made and used for killing people and those that have a place in the homes, stores and collections of legitimate purchasers. But in making these distinctions, police note, legislators tend to think only of assault rifles. They often fail to include semiautomatic assault pistols and shotguns -- weapons that are showing up increasingly in the hands of drug dealers and other criminals here and around the world.
While no policeman relishes the thought of staring at the wrong end of an assault rifle, law enforcement officers point out that the assault pistols pose a deadlier threat because they are more easily concealed. The assault shotguns are yet another special threat to human lives; the most notorious of these weapons is the "Street Sweeper" used for riot control in South Africa. The original version, made there, was banned from importation by President Reagan in 1986. But Sarah Brady of Handgun Control, Inc., notes that a domestic version is now readily available in gun shops across the country.
Call it law and order, public safety or just plain common sense, but gun owners as well as other law-abiding people in America recognize that some of the most deadly weapons of war and crime can be taken off the open market in the name of public safety without restricting the legitimate ownership of other firearms bought, used and collected for long-accepted, peaceful purposes.