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SIMPLE WAYS TO CURB GUN VIOLENCE

Texas Gov. George W. Bush blames "a wave of evil" in the country for the recent mass killings and says the antidote is "more love in society."

Until we get more love in society, here are some other actions we might consider. With the 20-20 hindsight that's always so useless in these situations, we can see that Larry Gene Ashbrook had a raging case of paranoid schizophrenia, and somebody should have done something about it. Even then, of course, there is no guarantee that all this shooting wouldn't have happened.

Assume that Ashbrook had been delivered to a hospital, examined and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The hospital could hold him no more than 30 days. At least he would have been given medications that are often quite effective in treating the disease. The weakness of the system is that there is no way to ensure that patients who are mentally ill take their medication.

The outpatient-treatment system is pathetically underfunded and needs backup. Patients often stop taking medication, either because they don't like the way it makes them feel or simply because of the chaos in their lives. Many are homeless, and getting and keeping track of a prescription is too difficult. A relative or friend willing to make sure that the medications are taken regularly would be of infinite value.

In this case, none of the current gun laws would have prevented Ashbrook from buying weapons, as he had no officially recorded history of mental illness. But that doesn't mean we should say, "Oh, this proves that gun laws don't help" and forget it. Most of the 65 people killed with handguns in this country every day could be saved by simple gun-control measures that are far from drastic.

We are so blase about gun violence in this country that only these multiple killings now get much media attention. Without three or four or more dead, the media hordes don't show up. But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of victims of gun violence are single shootings.

In this category, our easiest choices are:

Close the gun-show loophole. This was the bill that died this year in the Texas Legislature, killed by the National Rifle Association and its supporters. We already know that the Brady law is effective, so what excuse is there for leaving this idiotic loophole?

Trigger locks and/or requiring that guns be locked up. This is the common problem with legal weapons. It's what happened in the Jonesboro school killings. The boys went to one home where all the guns were locked up. So they went on to another home, where the guns were not.

Granted, it is a considerable imposition to have the government tell you how to handle something inside your own home, but we do it with pesticides and other fatal things. The FBI says that 750,000 guns a year are stolen because they're not locked up. And trigger locks to keep kids from using guns are no different from myriad special legal protections for children.

Straw purchase. Before Virginia passed its one-a-month limit on gun purchases, guns traced in crimes in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City -- all with gun-control laws -- were overwhelmingly linked to purchases made in Virginia. Traffickers would buy cases of guns at a time and transport them to the city streets for resale with no checks required. Since Virginia passed that law, the East Coast cities are finding that guns used in their crimes now trace back to sales in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

This year, the legislature passed, and Bush signed, a bill that prevents Texas cities from suing gun manufacturers as Chicago and others have done. This happened as the legislators were also debating how to divvy up the state's settlement from the tobacco industry -- another legal industry that makes a lethal product and markets it to children.

The latest marketing wrinkle by the gun-makers is to tout the TEC-9 as the gun that leaves no fingerprints. Is this marketing approach aimed at people so neat that they just hate seeing fingerprints on their guns? Or perhaps at shooters who regularly eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches just before shooting? Who do you think might be interested in a gun that won't take fingerprints?

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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