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Campaign issues: Gun law


A rash of shootings in school and workplaces in the run-up to the 2000 poll has catapulted the issue of gun control onto the national agenda and to the forefront of Presidential politics.

Few other issues define modern America more dramatically or divide it more deeply.

Although gun crime as a whole has dropped by 21% since the early 1990's, high-profile shootings, such as the Columbine High School killings in April 1999, have prompted renewed concern about America's gun culture.

In the past, the issue had been polarized between vocal minorities who favoured either unrestricted access to guns or the banning of guns. But in recent months advocates of moderate gun reform have been gaining ground.

For the hugely powerful pro-gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Second Amendment right to bear arms is set in stone and fundamental to the very existence of the United States.

Disputed right

Their opponents argue that the amendment - which is clearly open to interpretation - merely guarantees a collective rather than an individual right to arms.

Overall, public opinion remains complex on the issue although Americans are fairly evenly split on whether stricter gun controls would actually reduce crime.

In the wake of the Columbine shootings many voters believe that controls on violence in films and computer games are at least as important as gun control in preventing a repeat of such incidents.

Gun control will remain a "hot button" issue up to and beyond polling day, not least because it is one of the few issues where a clear divide can be marked between Democrats and Republicans.

For the Republicans, presidential contender George W. Bush is a keen hunter and defender of the second amendment - hardly surprising for a Governor of Texas.

He has passed laws that allow Texans to carry concealed weapons and regularly repeated his belief that it is people's beliefs and attitudes that are the cause of gun violence, not lax gun regulation.

Democratic candidates meanwhile have been proposing tough systems for licensing or registering guns and clearly feel that gun control could be one of the Republicans' most vulnerable points.

Certainly the issue will weigh heavily on the key swing group of suburban voters and any further shootings in 2000 could end up playing a major role in the campaign. Premium

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