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Special Protection 

by Arianna Huffington

Mel Gibson's screenwriting partner, the Good Lord, thought "Thou shall not kill" was important enough to qualify for his Top Ten list. If he'd had a little more room on those tablets, he might have added, "and, while you're at it, thou shall not grant immunity to those who help arm killers."

Yet that is exactly what the Bush administration, which has so aggressively claimed the biblical high ground, tried to do earlier this month. They're backing a deeply immoral new bill that would shield reckless gun dealers and gun makers from lawsuits, denying the victims of gun crimes their day in court.

Despite the opposition of many of America's top police chiefs and mayors, the House passed its version of the legislation last year. The Senate was poised to do the same two weeks ago, until a pair of reasonable gun control amendments were added to the bill, at which point the measure's original backers reversed course and killed the legislation -- at least for now. The immunity bill is the NRA's top priority -- and those guys don't give up very easily.

Disarmingly named the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," the staggeringly irresponsible bill should more accurately be called the "Get Away with Murder Act," since it would have protected even those dealers who have made a profitable habit of selling guns to people who kill.

Here's a nasty little stat: Just 1 percent of gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes. These are dealers like Washington state's Bull's Eye Shooting Supply, which supplied the assault rifle the D.C. snipers used to gun down their victims -- as well as guns traced to 52 other crimes, including homicides and kidnappings. But if this bill ever becomes law, the families of those murdered by John Muhammad and Lee Malvo would be denied the right to hold Bull's Eye accountable in court.

Bush has violated another commandment by bearing false witness. Through the years, he has repeatedly expressed pro forma support for extending the 10-year-old ban on assault rifles (due to expire in September) and shutting down the gaping loophole that allows unlicensed gun dealers to sell their deadly weapons without background checks at gun shows.

But when gun control advocates in the Senate moved to add these measures to the Murder Inc. bill, the president made it clear where his loyalties really lie and tried to shoot down the added protections by letting it be known that he considered such amendments "unacceptable." Despite this presidential warning shot, the Senate narrowly approved both amendments -- thanks, in great part, to the Brady campaign. That's when the immunity backers turned their weapons on themselves.

Now it's hardly surprising that the president would say one thing and do another -- it's what he always does around campaign time. Who can forget his vows in 2000 to protect the rain forest, eschew nation-building and be a uniter, not a divider?

What is surprising is how the Bush administration has been willing to do the bidding of the gun lobby even when it's meant sabotaging the president's oft-professed top priority -- homeland security.

Witness his attorney general's astonishing refusal to allow FBI agents to scan the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to see if suspected terrorists have recently bought a firearm. How's that for perverse priorities? John Ashcroft has absolutely no problem with the government snooping around in the private medical records of law-abiding women, but a G-man wanting to make sure suspected terrorists haven't gotten their hands on a gun is somehow waging an unconstitutional assault on the Second Amendment.

I guess Ashcroft missed the al-Qaeda training manual our soldiers found in Afghanistan, which included a chapter on how easy it is to stock up on a whole sleeper cell's worth of weapons in the United States.

Apparently Osama and his murderous charges have been brushing up on their Lenin: Not only will capitalists sell you the rope with which to hang them, they will also set up a nice gun show to sell you the Uzis and TEC-9s with which to mow them down.

Bush continues to campaign like a moderate and govern like an extremist. If the Democratic nominee is smart, he'll pull out the big guns and lay waste to Karl Rove's attempts to present the president as our great protector. In truth, homicides and violent crimes are on the rise for the first time in nearly a decade. That's right: Crime has gone up on George Bush's watch.

I can hear the TV spot now: "Are you safer today than you were four years ago?" It's an armor-piercing election-year issue, one that could score a bull's-eye directly in W's most vulnerable area.

Arianna Huffington is a syndicated columnist and cohost of the National Public Radio program Left, Right and Center.

Publication date: 03/17/04
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