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Three years ago, New York Law School instituted its Justice Action Center as a means of bringing together faculty, students and selected guests to “evaluate the efficacy of law as an agent of change and social betterment.” At a recent campus symposium on gun laws, students and lawyers packed into the spacious Stiefel Reading Room might have wondered if attorneys or anyone else could reduce gun-related deaths in the United States — nearly 30,000 per year. The first salvo was fired by Richard North Patterson, the former federal prosecutor turned best-selling novelist in town to promote his new page-turner, “Balance of Power,” the tale of a gun-shy president plagued by zealots of the National Rifle Association. “We can agree to disagree,” said Patterson, “but now I’m going to proceed to be disagreeable. “In the annals of cynicism, there is no claim more bogus than ‘all we need to do is enforce existing laws,’ ” he said, with apparent reference to right-wing politicians and their friends in the powerful NRA. “ The NRA has intimidated and bribed our congressional majority. The NRA has kept America from knowing the facts.” The facts, he said, add up to this: “America is the slaughterhouse of the civilized world.” On the other hand were the views of attorney Robert Barr, the former Republican Congressman from Georgia who once sat on the House Judiciary Committee and now splits his time between fellowship duties with Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance and board membership with the NRA, and Mary Zeiss Stange, a Skidmore College professor of religion and philosophy who said she keeps a Browning Automatic Rifle at her holiday spread in Montana. To counter Patterson’s advocacy of increased gun control, Barr cited the ultra-restrictive gun laws of the nation’s capital and a conversation he claimed to have had in the days following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “Three different members of Congress, all extremely liberal and in favor of gun control,” recollected Barr, “they said to me, ‘In your NRA capacity, can’t you do something to get us our gun rights back so that we here in Washington can protect ourselves?’ And since then, a number of other folks have approached me.” Though he declined to identify the members of Congress or others who came to him “in confidence,” he said Washington had a “woefully high crime rate engendered, in part, by disarming the public.” Barr said of the downed pilots of commercial jets hijacked by terrorists, “If they’d had a firearm in that cockpit, they’d be here today.” Stange objected to that remark on the grounds of sexism, presumably because pilots are generally seen as males and flight attendants as females. “If the flight attendants had been armed, the tragedy might have been lessened,” said Stange, also an author, whose works explore how firearms empower feminists. Jon Lowy, senior attorney with the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he wants federal gun possession and registration laws expanded in order to abate a statistic he offered at the symposium and a few days later in a full-page New York Times ad: “One percent of gun dealers supply 57 percent of crime guns.” Lowy is trying to bring suit against one such company, Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply of Seattle, which has acknowledged in press reports the “loss” of 238 weapons from its inventory, including a Bushmaster assault rifle that wound up in the possession of John Allen Muhammad and teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, who are on trial in Virginia for the sniper murders of 12 people in the Washington, D.C., area. Lowy further decried the problem of multiple gun sales. “In all but a handful of states,” he said, “you can buy as many guns as you have the money for.” But Barr and Stange suggested that problems such as multiple gun sales and the world’s highest rate of gun deaths, if indeed such are problems, are worth the cost of protecting the Second Amendment, which speaks of the right to bear arms in the formation of militias. “One should honor a principle,” said Stange, “even when there are significant social costs.” Patterson and Barr had a final back-and-forth on citizen gun-owners opposed to tyranny. “Guns didn’t overthrow the Soviet Union,” said Patterson. “Yeah,” said Barr, “but they did with the British.”

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