IT'S BEEN ANOTHER wild fortnight of multiple murders and woundings by gunfire -- from Atlanta to Pelham, Ala., to Garden Grove, Calif. -- with the snapping of triggers in schools, streets and offices now an alarmingly common occurrence. Workplace shootings alone dot the map, including these as tallied by the Associated Press:
* June 11: A man kills his former psychiatrist and a woman at the doctor's Southfield, Mich., clinic. Four others are wounded before the man kills himself.
* April 15: A man opens fire in the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, killing two and wounding four before police shoot him to death.
* March 18: A man kills his attorney and one of the lawyer's clients in Johnson City, Tenn.
* Jan. 14: A man opens fire in a Salt Lake City office building, killing one and wounding another.
While these events, along with the Littleton, Colo., high school horror, keep increasing public concern around the country -- the Republican-led Congress has yet to respond with any new controls on guns. The lawmakers have left town, postponing all work until they return Sept. 7. By then, school will be resuming -- and even when the conference committee does convene, it will be to reconcile a Senate paste-up of modest provisions with a House bill that has no gun control provisions. At least Democrats on the committee offered a motion to work into the recess. Republicans rejected it, saying the issue is too volatile to be addressed in haste.
Haste? Nine months into the year, and nothing to show for it. Too hasty is what GOP leaders were wailing the last time Congress took a break. That break gave the National Rifle Association's lobbyists time for a $1.5 million four-week campaign trashing of the Senate bill as they lined up their customary House mouthpieces for the sorry House show that ensued. Now chief NRA lobbyist James Baker says his group probably will spend at least as much again for more lobbying and advertising blasting the Senate proposals.
What's the hurry, after all, when America's death-and-injury-by-gunfire toll is only a global embarrassment and a national disgrace? Or when gunshot wounds alone cost this country $2.3 billion a year in medical treatment -- almost half of that paid for with taxpayers' dollars? According to a study reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that tab was calculated from 1994 data. The paper's chief author, Philip J. Cook of Duke University, notes that this public cost shows that "even though many people feel that gun violence is essentially someone else's problem, it is really everybody's problem."
Everybody's problem -- but whose to address? On Capitol Hill, serious relief from gunfire is still nowhere in sight.