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It's the Guns, Stupid

As the threat of weapons of mass destruction spurs our government to action, a far more insidious threat endangers citizens around the world. The massive proliferation of guns! Gun trafficking has always been President Bush's blind spot in the war on terror. The inherent danger from the 4,000 gun shows a year in the United States, where terrorists and criminals can load their vans with countless weapons -- no questions asked -- may actually grow worse in the coming months.

Without leadership from the President, the federal ban on assault weapons will expire on September 13th and a new generation of assault weapons will enter the civilian market - and be readily available to terrorists. During the 2000 presidential campaign, then- Candidate Bush pledged to renew the ban. On November 10, 2001, President Bush addressed the United Nations. In his speech he stated, "We have a responsibility to deny weapons to terrorists and to actively prevent private citizens from providing them."

Unfortunately, since taking office, the Bush administration has stood in the way of efforts to renew the ban and close the gun show loophole - a loophole which allows criminals and terrorists an easy opportunity to evade background checks. Moreover, in many instances, the administration has actually turned back the clock on public safety. Attorney General John Ashcroft led the effort to destroy background check records after 24 hours of a gun purchase from a federally licensed dealer. His records destruction recommendation was included in gun industry backed legislation that also eroded law enforcement's ability to target crooked gun dealers.

While the Bush administration may be interested in allowing free access to guns for responsible American citizens, these policies have worldwide effects. Like pollution, guns know no borders. Whether it's Washington DC, Toronto, Port-au-Prince or Beirut, the permissive gun laws in the United States offer the world's criminal market easy access to an extraordinary range of lethal weapons. In fact, 50% of handguns recovered in crime in Toronto come from the United States. 80% of guns used in crimes in Mexico come from the U.S.

In addition, U.S. domestic policy is also helping arm terrorists abroad. On September 10, 2001 -- just one day before 9/11 -- Ali Boumelhem was convicted on a variety of weapons violations plus conspiracy to ship weapons to the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon. He and his brother Mohamed had purchased an arsenal of shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, flash suppressers and assault weapon parts from Michigan gun shows.

Just as worrying, found among the mounds of rubble in Kabul after the U.S. led assault there, was the manual entitled, "How Can I Train Myself for Jihad" containing an entire section on "Firearms Training." The manual singles out the United States for its easy availability of firearms and stipulates that al-Qaeda members living in the United States "obtain an assault weapon legally, preferably AK-47 or variations." Criminals in the U.S. and abroad have long known what has become doctrine to al-Qaeda: The United States is the Great Gun Bazaar.

Moderate gun control offers enormous dividends in public safety that will pay out for generations. A recent report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes that if the federal ban on assault weapons had not passed, "approximately 60,000 additional assault weapons would have been traced to crime in the last 10 years -- an average of 6,000 additional assault weapons traced to crime each year." Assault weapons are designed to spray bullets on a battlefield, not in Mexico City or Toronto or Washington, DC neighborhoods.

While the world community has experienced the realities of terrorism too often in the last several years, too many of our neighborhoods already know what it means to live with terror. They've been surviving widespread gun violence for decades. Closing the gun show loophole and continuing the ban on assault weapons, can provide dramatic leaps forward in the safety of communities in the United States as well as those around the world. Failing to act condemns thousands of families around the globe to years of suffering.

The President can't remain silent on the pending expiration of the assault weapon ban and remain true to his UN statement or campaign pledges. It's a question not only of public safety, but also of national security.


Wendy Cukier is President of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control, Rebecca Peters is Director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Rachel Stohl is Senior Analyst at the Center for Defense Information. CDI is dedicated to strengthening security through: international cooperation; reduced reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict; reduced reliance on nuclear weapons; a transformed and reformed military establishment; and, prudent oversight of, and spending on, defense programs.

Author(s): Wendy Cukier, Rebecca Peters and Rachel Stohl