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COURSEY: Don't let loudest voices control the gun debate

If you, like the majority of Americans, think it's a good idea to regulate the sale and possession of firearms and maybe even ban high-capacity rapid-fire weapons that are designed to kill large numbers of people in short amounts of time, then you probably have high hopes for the work of Vice President Joe Biden and North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, both of whom are convening high-level committees to address the gun issue.

But it's important to temper those hopes with a recognition that gun-control measures trigger a visceral reaction among a small segment of the gun-owning population that believes any gun regulation is a threat to the Constitution that must be opposed at all costs.

Unfortunately, this group is represented by the National Rifle Association, which has the funding and political clout to do just that.

One small example: In 1999, following the mass shootings that killed 14 students — including the two perpetrators — at Columbine High School, several California counties, including Sonoma County, moved to ban gun shows at county fairgrounds and other county-owned facilities.

The NRA immediately challenged the ban, backing a suit against Alameda County. That lawsuit challenging the Alameda ban ricocheted around state and federal appeals courts for years. Last year, facing yet another round of expensive legal maneuvering, Alameda County essentially raised the white flag and said it no longer would ban gun shows on its property, but would require all guns for sale to be unloaded, locked and attached to sales tables with cables.

This is how gun control works in America. With great difficulty, with great cost and with little result.

Vice President Biden knows this. But, he said this week, “We are not going to get caught up in the notion unless we can do everything, we're not going to do anything.” He vowed that he and President Barack Obama are “determined to take action” in the wake of last month's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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