John McCain plays Dumbo

Guns and elephants are not the same, the presidential hopeful says. You got that right, Senator.


Jake Tapper
August 26, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

On Aug. 16, at the beginning of a two-week campaign swing through California, presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., met with a posse of reporters and editors at the Los Angeles Times.

Not surprisingly, with the Granada Hills Jewish Community Center shooting still fresh in the minds of the Angelenos, McCain -- generally a loyal NRA voter -- was repeatedly asked about his opposition on various forms of gun control.

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One questioner inquired whether it made sense for Americans to register guns as they do cars.

"A gun and a car are not the same," McCain responded sarcastically. "How about treating a gun like an elephant? They're not the same."

The senior senator from Arizona is, of course, right. Guns and elephants are not the same (despite the fact that, arguably, both symbolize the GOP).

But in case you're confused and were possibly thinking about "treating a gun like an elephant," here's a helpful comparison to keep track of which is which.

1) Number in existence:

Elephants: There are about 500 elephants in the United States. In the rest of the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund, there are anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 elephants. Asian elephants' numbers are dwindling, hovering around 50,000 worldwide, and the Asian elephant has been classified as an endangered species.

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Guns: There are more than 220 million guns in the United States alone.

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2) Imports

Elephants: The importation of elephants into the United States is highly restricted. Since they are endangered, the importation of Asian elephants is severely limited. The rules are somewhat less stringent for African elephants, but "it's pretty rare that we actually see any wild elephants brought into the U.S.," according to Sheila Einsweiler, the senior wildlife inspector of the office of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Both Asian and African elephants enjoy the highest level of protection in the international treaty that regulates trade in wildlife -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Einsweiler says that there's "very little commercial trade of elephants allowed in this country; generally their importation is for zoological or captive breeding purposes only."

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Guns: There are no limits on the number of guns that can be brought into the United States. In 1997 alone, 939,415 firearms were imported into this country. Handguns need to have a minimum standard of safety regarding materials -- called a "sporting purposes test" -- to keep cheaply manufactured Saturday Night Special-type guns from being imported. (Though, oddly, handguns manufactured in the U.S. don't have to meet the same federal standard.) Assault rifles and certain assault shotguns are also banned from importation.

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3) Regulation

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Elephants: The laws governing conservation and preservation of elephants are fairly strict. The welfare, housing and treatment of elephants is supervised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, "has minimum standards of care for circuses, zoos, researchers, exhibitors and wholesale dealers -- all of whom require a license or a registration," says Ed Curlett, spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the Department of Agriculture. "We inspect every one at least once a year, and make unscheduled inspections. If we find something wrong, we work with them to get them up to compliance, and if they don't meet standards they'll be subject to a civil penalty." The Endangered Species Act prohibits any interstate commerce dealing with Asian elephants.

Guns: Generally speaking, any non-felon can purchase any gun he or she chooses, with the exception of automatic weapons. Gun dealers require a federal license, but the private sales of guns -- whether between two collectors or 1,000 at a gun show -- are largely unregulated and do not require background checks at the federal level. Guns are the only consumer product in the United States not regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms monitors the sale and distribution of guns, but not their manufacture. There are thousands of laws on the books regarding guns, but that's a misleading statistic since many of these laws deal with hunting, discharging weapons in public and committing crimes with guns and not with regulating their sale. Thirty-one states have laws allowing their citizens to carry loaded, concealed weapons.

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4) How much does one cost?

Elephants: Generally anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000.

Guns: You can get a handgun for about $100.

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5) How difficult would it be to get permission to walk down the streets of Phoenix with one?

Elephants: Difficult. "That would have to go to City Council for their approval," says an authority at the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

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Guns: About as easy as it gets. In Arizona, almost any non-felon can get a license to carry a loaded, concealed weapon as long as he or she has finished a safety training course. Arizona has no waiting period, no child access prevention law, no permit requirement, no purchase limitations and no background check or any regulations whatsoever for private sales.

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6) Have any kids been suspended for bringing one of them to school?

Elephants: No.

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Guns: More than 6,000 American kids were suspended for that reason in 1998.

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7) Body count:

Elephants: Fewer than 50 people worldwide have been killed by elephants in the last 10 years. In the last year, a herd of 17 stampeding elephants killed three people in northern Uganda. And in the Bien Lac-Nui Ong Forest in Vietnam in May, wild elephants crushed five locals.

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Guns: According to the FBI uniform crime report, in 1996, 34,040 Americans were killed because they were on the wrong end of a firearm.


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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Gun Control Guns John Mccain, R-ariz. Republican Party

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