SEEMING TO have learned nothing from the embarrassing performance of their GOP colleagues in the Senate on gun legislation, House Republicans have broken any last semblance of ranks in a wheels-off contest to produce an even weaker bill. House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- trying in vain to reassert some leadership over an unruly party caucus -- wound up abandoning efforts to rally the members behind any single "gun control" placebo.
Instead, Republicans -- divided between those for doing little and those for doing nothing -- are being left to their own disorganized devices. It is not a formula for legislative or political success.
The sorry gun show began with the traditional GOP-NRA axis in high gear. NRA lobbyists -- fresh from a $1-million four-week campaign trashing the Senate bill as the end of democracy in America -- enlisted their usual House lock-steppers to push for slap-dash passage of a bill with even more loopholes than the doily sent over from the Senate.
While the speaker squirmed, his top lieutenants, Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, began rallying the let-the-weapons-flow members. Their NRA-issue package would continue to allow uncontrolled sales of guns by the bagful. By changing the definition of "gun show" and lifting some restrictions on interstate shipping of weapons to individual buyers, these proposals would preserve side-deals as a lethal art form. Background-check requirements could continue to be legally circumvented, in some instances even more easily than under current law.
Background-check requirements would apply only to events at which 10 or more vendors are selling firearms. Keep the vendors down to nine, and an arsenal could move from individual seller to individual buyer. At shows with more vendors, buyer and seller could work the old see-you-later routine: Discuss transactions at the show but conclude the transaction somewhere else.
Lost in this maneuvering over gun shows is any meaningful response by the House majority to the clearly growing public demand for Congress to get a grip on the mass marketing and all-too-free movement of firearms in this country. Some piecemeal responses to the terror of gunfire can be constructive, but the bullets will keep on flying as long as concealable weapons are made and marketed in America.