Columbine and the Politicians

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Advocates for stricter gun control, and their allies seeking a greater national investment in youth development, have long welcomed a national plebiscite on the course of youth policy. November's general election may be shaping up as just that.

Obviously, no candidate for Congress or the White House favors violent crime. But that's the extent of the Clinton proclaimed "together as one" consensus on how to stop the country's hail of gunfire.

For the past year the GOP-controlled Congress has held reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Act hostage in order to keep gun shows (Texas holds the most, 472 in 1998) free of criminal background checks on purchasers. That's just dandy with Democrats mapping the fall campaigns. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake thinks the GOP obstruction of gun control issues is "a brilliant strategy" - for her Democrats. Vice President Al Gore, belatedly grasping the potency of the issue, now campaigns for a broad approach to youth violence, including the stalled gun show provisions, photo ID licenses for new handgun owners, more prevention-oriented counseling and after-school programs, and expanded substance abuse treatment.

Gov. George Bush calls more gun control a "great false hope" and says he will "do something a little differently, and that is to enforce laws on the books" and support a tripling of a federal "character education" program to $25 million.

Bush recently joined Gore in supporting the mandatory sale of trigger locks with new gun purchases, a change of heart no doubt influenced by public opinion polls. Were the GOP's presumptive nominee running for president of the Republic of Texas, he would be in fine shape. But the election hinges on a band of states stretching west from New Jersey (birth of the Million Mom March) to Missouri, where voters (by three-to-one in St. Louis' suburbs) rebuffed the repeal of a Jessie James - inspired 1875 concealed gun ban. Gov. Bush signed a similar measure in 1995 that now allows 200,000 Texas citizens to carry concealed weapons.

Advancing youth work does not rise or fall on gun control or which candidate wins the White House. But the campaign's net six months will give youth workers plenty to ponder.