AS A PARTING shot before he leaves office, D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke has decided at the last minute to revive a far-reaching firearms proposal that should be shelved. His idea is to make manufacturers and distributors of certain firearms legally liable for deaths and injuries caused in shootings involving the weapons they market. While this may appeal to some council members, its effectiveness is in doubt and its scope in need of much more than a quickie debate and approval today. Many supporters of measures to curb the far-too-free flow of firearms in America -- and we're among them -- have serious reservations about such a sweeping measure. Certainly the incoming council under a new chairman should have the opportunity to look at this one -- since it would directly affect relationships between the District of Columbia and its neighbors in the region -- not to mention Congress.
In the past, Mr. Clarke pushed a measure dealing with handguns, as he put it, to "force gun manufacturers to consider carefully the purposes for which handguns are manufactured and how they are distributed." But since when did one city have the authority to eliminate the making and marketing of categories of firearms that are considered legal elsewhere -- and that are used for sport, for the protection of commercial establishments or as part of collections outside the District?
This city already has a strong law prohibiting the possession or ownership of nearly all handguns. But because these weapons are readily and legally available in neighboring jurisdictions, the D.C. law cannot stop gun trafficking in the city. The most effective public safety protections are federal measures that will come up again in the next Congress -- measures such as the Brady bill that would require a waiting period on handgun sales and another proposal to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons that have no place on the general public market.
There is no question that the quick-and-easy availability of firearms to walk-in traffic has contributed mightily to America's global leadership in deaths by these weapons. And the citizen outrage generated by the fatal shooting of Jay Bias has raised the level of indignation throughout the region -- swelling the ranks of residents who have vowed to try to run the guns out of their neighborhoods. Regional and federal actions are the effective answers -- and that is where all of Greater Washington's legislators should channel their efforts.