Columns » Bob McCord

Handouts for business

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While it got little attention, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 65 to 28, passed a $820 billion catch-all bill last week that, according to the Wall Street Journal, was "dictated by the administration's business allies." The House passed it in October, but the Senate refused and would never have passed it if 16 Democrats, including the two Arkansans, hadn't decided to end debate and let it go to a vote because it provided money for home-state projects. Among the goodies for businesses, the new law allows employers to refuse to pay overtime to some white-collar workers, to delay the use of new labels on meat and produce despite the fear of mad-cow disease and to permit big TV networks to reach four more percent of the nation's viewers than is now legal. But it's not just big business that the president pleases with his bill. Bush thinks it's not necessary to keep records more than 24 hours of people who buy guns and that taxpayers ought to pay for vouchers to send kids to private and church-operated schools. He thinks like that because they are the thoughts of many who voted for him in 2000, and he intends for them to vote for him again in November. Schools in early America were built by churches and some academies were built by wealthy people. But it wasn't long before the nation realized that for the sake of the country's economy and social well-being, every child should learn to read and write, not just those who could pay for the training. So in the early 1800s state governments allowed cities to began collecting property taxes to pay for schools. By 1850 the states began passing laws that made school attendance compulsory, which, of course, meant state governments, not parents, had to pay for the public schools. Thomas Jefferson's idea of a wall of separation between church and state in the First Amendment to the Constitution has been carried out by the Supreme Court in almost every challenge except education. The federal government and some state governments have on occasion helped parochial and even private schools, and the Supreme Court has okayed grants of tax money to church-related colleges. Last week, President Bush and the Senate gave the federal government permission to spend $14 million to give 1,600 kids in the District of Columbia the right to go to private or parochial schools starting this fall. The Washington Catholic Diocese quickly announced that it would have space for 1,378 kids come September. Sen. Ted Kennedy has said he would attempt to repeal this part of the catch-all law, and if he couldn't, he would go to court. That's happening now in lower courts in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Colorado where legislators are already experimenting with vouchers for kids in private and parochial schools. Some state courts have okayed them, but no one can be sure about what the Supreme Court will say when vouchers arrive there. I can't believe that many Americans want their tax dollars used to weaken the public schools, America's melting pots. As for changes in the sale of guns, the president is hurting law enforcement and helping crooks. Since 1968, no person has been able to buy a gun in a gun store without giving his name, address, any police record, etc. to the store's salesman who writes it and the gun's serial number on a card, which is kept as long as the store is in business. Before handing the weapon to the customer, the salesman has to call a national FBI telephone number and relate this information, which is put into a computer bank. If the computer check shows no record, the FBI calls back within minutes and the customer walks out with his gun. But if the FBI finds the buyer has a record, the store is told not to sell him a gun. Sometimes the FBI calls back and says it needs more time to check the person, and then the store salesman keeps the gun and tells the customer to come back in three days. If in three days the FBI hasn't called back, the store hands the gun to the customer. Now, the Department of Justice keeps the FBI information in its computers for 90 days so that other law enforcement officers throughout the country can search it. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that this system has kept 1 million suspicious persons from buying guns since 1994. In the last six months, Brady spokesmen say that 228 suspicious persons were prevented from buying guns that couldn't have happened if the information in the computer had been eliminated in 24 hours. This system should not be changed because it is important to the United States, which has more people who have firearms than any other country in the world, according to a study last year by the United Nations. There is almost one gun for every American. The Brady Campaign, in its seventh annual report on the numbers, finds that Arkansas and 30 other states deserve a grade of D for having the fewest firearm controls. "Arkansas is not doing a good job of protecting children from gun violence," according to Linda Vaughan, the southern regional director of the Brady Campaign. She was especially disturbed that Arkansas has no restrictions against assault weapons, no background checks at gun shows and allows guns to be carried in parks and restaurants where alcohol is served. What the country needs is 100 percent gun registration. The closest we have is the computerized background check, which the Congress and President Bush have just crippled. Right now it's the only system we have to stop guns being acquired by terrorists, criminals and the person who bought that loaded pistol that was found in a seventh grader's locker last week at Dunbar Magnet Middle School in Little Rock.

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