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No. 2: Send a message

It should not be necessary to amend the Constitution for Florida to have reasonable gun controls. There is no legal reason why the Legislature could not enact them on its own authority. Neither is there any doubt what the people want. Opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for the sort of "cooling off" period proposed by Amendment 2, which would require an interval of three working days statewide between the retail ordering of a handgun and its delivery to the purchaser. But on this subject the Florida Legislature is the captive of a small, special-interest constituency _ the gun lobby _ which exerts enormous influence by dint of its campaign contributions and its single-issue politics. Attorney General Bob Butterworth does not exaggerate when he complains, "Florida is known as a gun-happy state."

Faced with an angry public reaction to the gun lobby's successes, and with petitions calling for a referendum on a statewide seven-day waiting period, the 1989 Legislature took the easy way out. It proposed a three-day waiting period, excluding weekends and holidays, and put it on this year's general election ballot as constitutional amendment No. 2.

Critics point out that it does not require that buyers be fingerprinted or mandate any sort of background check and that three days would not be sufficient time for a thorough one. (An existing law, not yet implemented, provides for telephone checks on a gun buyer's criminal record.) Moreover, the waiting period applies only to sales by retail dealers. Criminals will simply lie to get their guns or resort to the black market, opponents say, implying, "Why bother?"

If the terms are weak, it is because the gun lobby made them so. But some law is clearly better than no law. Even the three days will deter some suicides and crimes of passion. States with waiting periods report them effective at catching felons in the act of trying to buy guns.

One of Amendment 2's most positive effects will be to interrupt the cash-and-carry trade from South Florida that arms the drug gangs in New York, Washington and other stricken urban centers. You don't have to look that far, though, to see the tragic consequences of Florida's guns-for-everyone philosophy. Armed teen-agers, as quick to shoot as to fight with their fists, prowl the streets of virtually every Florida city.

Above all, strong voter support for Amendment 2 will send a powerful, unmistakable message to the Florida Legislature. The larger the "yes," vote, the better the chances that meaningful legislation, such as a ban on assault weapons, will follow. With Amendment 2, the people of Florida can begin to recover their streets from the gun gangs and recapture their Legislature from the gun lobby. We strongly urge a "Yes" vote on Amendment 2. Vote as if your life depends on it. It very well may.