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It’s only life we’re talking about…

Joe Licandro | Tuesday, February 24, 2004

With all the media attention focused on the Presidential election, it’s easy to forget that Congress is still in session this year. Here’s a little reminder. Over the next few weeks, Congress will be voting on two very important bills that will have serious ramifications for a long time to come.First on the plate is the House’s expected vote on The Unborn Victims Violence Act, a bill that would make it separate federal crimes to injure or kill both a woman and her fetus. If passed as expected, this bill would effectively re-define the term “life” in this country. In turn, this could provide the legal pretense for partial birth abortion foes to win their fight to criminalize such a heinous “medical” procedure once and for all. The Unborn Victims Violence Act would bring federal law in line with 28 states that have laws covering the unborn. A similar federal proposal has already twice passed the House in 1999 and 2001, but the U.S. Senate has refused to touch it, afraid of the potentially stormy political aftermath. That is about to change as new Senate Majority leader and licensed physician Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has promised to take the bill up in the near future.It would be impossible for any Senator – even for the most vehement of abortion rights supporters – to justify voting against this bill, for a vote in this direction would effectively mean that if a gunman shot a woman, killing her fetus but not the woman herself, the gunman could only be tried for attempted murder. Under this arrangement, the fetus is reduced to nothing, as if it never existed in the first place. According to an Associated Press article published Monday, a recent poll conducted by the National Right to Life Committee cites that 80 percent of the American public believes there should be a law recognizing the killing of a fetus as a homicide. Following basic logic, the following question must be asked: If shooting a fetus becomes a federal crime, then should not killing it through abortion be considered the same thing? The final result is the same: The human fetus is dead in the end.”Human” is the operative word, because abortion rights activists and the judges who side with them conveniently leave that out of their political and legal arguments. No matter how they want to define the term, the following is indisputable: Without any unnatural or outside interference, the human fetus would have matured into a human baby the exact same way a human baby will mature into a child and later into an adult. It’s called the cycle of life. Abortion rights supporters like to argue that the fetus is not an entity that can exist independently by itself and therefore cannot be categorized as life. Well, has it ever occurred to them that babies and children cannot survive without their parents or an adult caretaker? Does this mean they are not life, either? While we’re on the subject of life, the Senate also has a chance to do what the House recently failed to do – protect innocent Americans from gun violence by voting “no” to the controversial NRA-backed Gun Industry Immunity Bill designed to eliminate so-called frivolous lawsuits. Under its terms, licensed gun makers and distributors would be totally immune from any lawsuit filed against them by victims of gun violence. In other words, negligent gun makers and distributors would suffer no consequences for selling or passing large quantities of arms under the table to known black market dealers intending to re-sell them to individuals prohibited by law from purchasing a gun.If passed, this bill would most likely dismiss standing lawsuits against irresponsible gun dealers across the country including the sniper case “Conrad Johnson v. Bull’s-Eye Shooter, et al” and the half-dozen others filed against the Washington state dealer. The 238 guns that inexplicably disappeared from the Tacoma gun dealership, without any record of them being sold, included a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that ended up in the hands of the snipers John Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo, neither of whom could have legally purchased a gun (Muhammad because he was under domestic restraining order, and Malvo because he was a juvenile). In his testimony, Malvo has claimed that he shoplifted the gun. Even if this is the truth, should not Bull’s-Eye still be held responsible for not providing proper security measures to prevent shoplifting, especially after this happens 238 times, as the dealership is claiming? Bars are held liable for serving the underage and the heavily intoxicated who later sit behind the wheel, so why do gun distributors deserve immunity?The immunity bill would not only prevent victims from seeking monetary damage but also from seeking shutdowns of corrupt dealers. Without forcing the gun industry to be accountable for negligence, what incentive does it have to take stronger safety precautions in its manufacturing and distribution methods? Guns should not be in the hands of madmen like Malvo and Muhammad or people like the alleged murderer of Chicago Police Officer Michael Ceriale, who was killed by a trafficked handgun in yet another case likely to be dismissed by the passage of this bill. No wonder the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, led by current Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, has vehemently opposed the passage of this legislation, even taking out a full-page ad in The Washington Post. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Bratton is the former Police Chief of New York City, the man, along with Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, responsible for rolling back crime in the Big Apple. Maybe, just maybe, the Senate should listen to him, instead of the NRA.As it stands now, the bill has 59 senators on board, only one away from defeating any filibuster. Hopefully, some of these Senators will see the error in their ways and join the minority. It’s the only way justice can be delivered to the victims of gun violence. This vote is just the tip of the iceberg. Two more crucial gun-control laws are waiting in the wings: the Omnibus Appropriations Bill proposed by representative Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) that would effectively eliminate crucial parts of the current Brady Bill by drastically reducing the amount of time to conduct criminal background checks for prospective gun purchasers, and the Assault Weapons Ban, which is up for renewal after 10 years of prohibiting the sale of certain military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons, including AK-47s and Kalishnakov rifles.In the wake of Columbine, the D.C. Snipers and the yet-to-be-caught Columbus highway shooter, I am hopeful our leaders will practice common sense and support much-needed gun control laws in this country. I am equally as optimistic that they will vote in favor of The Unborn Victims Violence Act.Life is at stake.Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.