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Bill Clinton has made it clear yet again that he likes cruise missiles, with their ability to slip under radar screens and do damage without endangering the guy who launched them.
No, I'm not talking about Iraq, but rather Clintons' advocacy of a federal law prohibiting those convicted of domestic abuse misdemeanors from ever again being able to legally obtain a gun. I've counted at least five things it accomplishes:
If you're thinking that none of this has anything to do with making anybody safer, you're missing the point - there's an election hard upon us, and as Clinton taught Bush there's no such thing as a safe lead.
But let's hear out Cruise Clinton.
Said the president, "if you're stalking or harassing women or children, you shouldn't have a gun." Can he not know that the 1994 Violence Against Women Act which he signed already forbids the sale of guns to stalkers and harassers who are under court restraining orders?
"The problem is there is one class of misdemeanors that tend to be particularly violent, where we know there's a potential for future violence," said Clinton. "And that is the painful area of domestic violence."
In fact, as Woman's Freedom Network Vice-President Cathy Young notes, "There is no evidence that domestic violence misdemeanor offenses are more violent than non-domestic misdemeanor assaults." We'll just chalk that one up to presidential puffery.
With domestic violence, says Clinton, "often there's a plea bargain which goes from a felony to a misdemeanor."
Sure, but that's true of all felonies. "Virtually all available research shows that when the levels of injury are the same, domestic assaults are no less likely than non-family assaults to be prosecuted as felonies," Young told me.
To the extent such plea-bargaining is a problem, it can be dealt with "three strikes and you're out" or other mandatory sentencing laws. Increasingly, states are passing just such laws. Our purpose should be to try to make sure those guilty of felonies are punished with laws meant for felons, not to apply felony laws to persons who commit misdemeanors.
"If you commit an act of violence against your wife or child, you shouldn't have a gun," thunders Clinton, who is such a fatherly type that he plans to adopt a child if the polls show Dole getting to close.
But it's not that simple because the definition of "violence" can stretch from all the way from an unwanted grab to strangling your spouse and tossing the body into a meat grinder.
In most states, misdemeanor assault is any intentional touching without consent. That includes such things as poking someone with your finger. In a New Jersey case, a man was convicted of misdemeanor assault not for punching his girlfriend but rather the couch she was sitting on. Some states allow misdemeanor assault convictions for yelling at someone. Los Angeles hero Rodney King accused his wife of assault because she yelled at him in the car for not being able to read a map. (Rather than press charges, he promptly ran her down.)
All of these are wrong, which is why the law covers them. You can serve "hard time" for misdemeanor domestic violence. But take away a person's right to own a gun for life because of an arm grab or heated words? Slap that person in the same category as a brute who blackens his wife's eyes because she burned the toast?
Ironically, one outcome of this might be that many prosecutors and judges would feel sorry for the defendant faced with a disproportionate penalty, and be tempted to let him or her go scott-free.
Conceivably Clinton's proposal could keep guns out of the hands of some violent people, if we make the shaky assumption that violent people when turned away from stores won't just go out and buy their guns on the street. It's also true that we would keep guns out of the hands of some violent people if we forbade them for other arbitrary reasons, such as having blow-dryed gray hair and a bulbous nose.
But the point of any law that denies somebody the right to own a gun should be to match as closely as possible that denial to persons most likely to use them for violence. There's no evidence that this is the case here.
One figure cited in support of Clinton's proposal is that according to the Justice Department, of the 1.7 million incidents of domestic violence reported each year, 88,000 involve firearms. That comes out to 5 percent of such incidents, and it doesn't mean anybody was shot or even that bullets were fired. Considering that almost half of all Americans own guns, guns and domestic violence hardly go hand in hand.
Like most gun control measures, this proposal is essentially irrelevent to crime control. If you think reelecting Clinton and piling on more federal laws are worthy goals, you may not mind. Otherwise you'll see this as the harmful distraction and campaign stunt that it is.