Two years ago, Jack Berman, one of the organization's past presidents, was among those slain by a gunman in the 101 California shooting. Since then, the AJCongress has attacked the issue of violence prevention with particular fervency.
Last year, the organization collaborated with the Oakland-based BASS ticket agency to design a protocol encouraging gun owners to surrender their weapons in exchange for various prizes. Currently, the AJCongress is creating a booklet for children, delineating 50 ways they can reduce violence. Later this year, the organization will conduct a study on links between the religious right and the gun lobby.
In addition, the AJCongress has just released its second annual legislative report card, which tracks state and federal legislation and legislators' voting records on violence-prevention issues. The report is published by the Jack Berman Advocacy Center, which was founded after Berman's death to promote those causes to which the 35-year-old attorney was particularly dedicated — pro bono legal work and issues of social justice and religious liberty.
This year's report card presents a picture that is not especially promising for gun-control advocates. Although the California legislature has passed several relevant laws, such as one that prohibits minors from possessing concealable firearms, the report warns that those laws' net impact will be fairly limited.
What's more, the state legislature has failed to pass any major legislation that significantly restricts the type or quality of firearms that may be purchased or produced.
"It continues to be impossible to get progressive legislation passed on the state level," says Tracy Salkowitz, executive director of the regional AJCongress.
The AJCongress is more concerned about action on the federal level, Salkowitz said, noting that six bills currently pending in the House would repeal the assault weapons ban passed last year by the 103rd Congress.
That bill, called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, includes a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and on juveniles' possession of guns, as well as a plan to reform gun-dealer licensing that gives the federal government greater regulatory power.
Both House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority leader Bob Dole have vowed to repeal the law. What's more, Nov. 1994 elections filled the House with numerous new conservative legislators who could muster sufficient steam to propel the repeal forward, the AJCongress fears.
So far the new slew of conservatives have not compiled any voting record by which the AJCongress can measure their voting patterns.
But, "the number of conservative freshmen is cause for concern," Salkowitz says, "because it would lead one to [predict] that they in fact will support the NRA's agenda."
Attempting to block such a move, the AJCongress has sent its members action alerts encouraging them to contact their legislators demonstrating opposition to the assault ban repeal.
Still, despite its concern that last year's victory could become this year's defeat, the AJCongress is maintaining a modicum of optimism.
"We're confident that the president will veto any attempt to repeal the assault weapons ban," Salkowitz says. "And we're hopeful it won't even get to his desk."