Today's Papers

Pop Gun Control

Everybody leads with last night’s Senate passage of a juvenile justice bill containing several gun control measures. The lead headlines at USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times each note that the vote came just hours after a shooting at a Georgia high school in which a 15-year-old boy distraught over a break-up apparently wounded six classmates. The reporting makes it clear that this is not just a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc –Georgia Sen. Max Cleland is widely quoted as saying that his pro vote was “clinched” by the fresh mayhem near where he grew up. The Washington Post headline “Senate Backs New Gun Control, 51-50” is a bit misleading in that it refers to just one amendment of the bill–the one requiring background checks for would-be purchasers at gun shows–while the other main gun-related provisions passed 73-25.

Those other provisions include requiring the sale of child-safe locks in concert with handgun sales, a ban on the import of high-capacity ammunition clips, and a ban on the possession of semiautomatic weapons by juveniles. The other most sweeping provision of the bill is lowering the threshold for trial as an adult in federal court for many crimes down to age 14.

Overall, the vote is accorded great significance. The WP notes that Al Gore, in casting the tie-breaking vote on the gun show background check provision, called it “a turning point for our country.” The paper also quotes one Republican senator who views it as “a debacle” for his party. The Post, LAT, and USAT quote Sen. Tom Daschle as saying, “What you just saw is the NRA losing its grip on the United States Senate, at long last.” The NYT has a similar quote from Ted Kennedy. The NYT says the results are “relatively modest” but signify “that a new political center is developing on guns and violence.” But that there’s less here than meets the eye gets a little lost in the coverage. Both the WP and LAT point out that a key to the Democrat vote-gathering was abandoning stronger measures, such as a one-gun-purchase-a-month limit. A NYT editorial mentions this and other lost possibilities, such as background checks for Internet gun purchases and holding parents criminally responsible when their failure to secure firearms results in violence by a juvenile. And above all else, the papers should have hit higher that, banner headlines notwithstanding, no law was made yesterday. For that the House of Representatives will have to concur first.

Citing American and NATO officials, the NYT front reports that in talks during a one-day trip to Washington yesterday, NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark said that NATO should begin amassing as many as 50,000 troops on Kosovo’s borders. The story says this stance reflects his thinking, expressed to American officials, that NATO might not prevail in Yugoslavia with air power alone. The Wall Street Journal runs a similar report. In other war news, only the WP deems front-pageworthy word that on their first bombing run into Belgrade since accidentally hitting the Chinese embassy, NATO planes mistakenly bombed a hospital, killing four people, and damaging the residences of the Swedish, Spanish, and Norwegian ambassadors, as well as the Libyan embassy.

Inside stories at the WP and USAT report that a House committee investigating racially biased behavior by U.S. Customs heard from two black women yesterday about being detained, subjected to cavity searches, and forced to take laxatives and to have their bowel movements monitored, all because of a false suspicion that they were smuggling drugs. One of the women has already won a civil money judgment against the agency and the other, who was pregnant at the time, has a suit pending. The hearings are focusing on the practice of racial profiling, but there is a separate issue here that is much more obviously wrong: vicious treatment of suspects once they are detained. How can Customs tolerate officers who would force a pregnant woman to take repeated strong doses of a laxative without first checking with a (her) doctor? According to the Post, the two officers who did this are still working at Customs. Why?