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Congress should make new attemptto enforce limits on assault weapons

Even when a little bit isn't enough, it's still usually better than none at all: Think sunshine during a vacation, chocolate, energy to get through the day.

Think too of the nation's 10-year-old assault weapons ban, which ended when Congress failed to renew it on Monday.

It wasn't perfect. It didn't begin to address the nation's problem with dangerous weapons. But it was something, and now even that is gone.

Should we be pleased? Not by a long shot. We should be asking Congress to get to work on a replacement ' this time, one that works well.

Because the ban did have its faults. Your chances of being targeted by one of the 19 kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons prohibited by the ban were always minuscule. Criminals know handguns are more convenient.

Also, the law banned only specific gun features. That created loopholes that continued to allow use of dangerous weapons, just not the specific models on the list. Manufacturers easily found ways to work around the law.

— Yet it's also clear President Clinton was in many respects on the right track when he advocated the ban in 1994.

The use of assault-style weapons in crime, for example, has fallen since 1994. They were involved in 5 percent of crimes before the ban and only 1.6 percent since its enactment, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocated renewing the ban.

And there is clear reason to think Americans support restrictions despite protections of the Second Amendment.

An August poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania showed that 68 percent of Americans favored extending the ban. Even a third of NRA members supported it, bucking the group's leadership.

We don't find that fact as surprising as it might seem. Lots of people want the right to keep and use guns. But most law-abiding folks have no use for a semiautomatic assault weapon.

Issues and answers

Too often voters mark their ballots on election day ill-informed about the positions of the candidates.

A coalition of nine community groups hopes to put an end to that by offering three candidate forums this month and next leading up to the Nov. 2 general election. Voters who have yet to study up on the races ought to take note.

Each forum will feature Senate District — candidates Alan Bates and Jim Wright, House District 6 candidates John Doty and Sal Esquivel and House District 5 candidates Peter Buckley and Joanna Lofaso.

Each forum will highlight a different topic: children and families, human services and economic development.

The forums, set for Sept. 21, Sept. 30 and Oct. 5, might not provide uninformed voters with every bit of information they need to make good choices in the November elections, but they're a great educational tool.

Put them on your calendar now.