Action now on guns
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
The next few weeks represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harden the nation’s gun laws and reduce the threat of rapid-fire violence in America. A month after the slaughter of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., Vice President Joe Biden’s commission is about to present a series of recommendations for new laws, and it is vital that his panel gets it right and that Congress immediately takes action on its report.
Federal laws on guns have been kept so lax, for so long, that the Biden panel could suggest scores of ways to improve public safety. But there are a few policies that clearly have to be in any serious legislative package, the first two of which were endorsed Monday by President Barack Obama: requiring criminal and mental-health background checks on every gun buyer, including sales from individuals; a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; a strong statute prohibiting gun trafficking; and an end to the hobbling of the federal agency that enforces gun laws.
The need for background checks on every gun buyer has never been greater, now that the Internet has made it easy for private individuals to buy and sell guns without screening. The reason that both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have made universal background checks their top priority is that 40 percent of gun sales now take place privately, including most guns that are later used in crimes.
Requiring background checks at gun shows, parking-lot sales and websites would reduce the cash-and-carry anonymity of millions of gun transactions, putting buyers on notice that their sale is being recorded and can be traced. It is largely supported by legitimate gun dealers, who already have to conduct the checks and have long grumbled about competition from those who do not. And it would have no effect on law-abiding buyers who want a hunting rifle or a handgun to keep at home.
Such a law should be supplemented by a presidential order requiring federal and state agencies to contribute to the background check system with criminal and mental health information. Federal prosecutors, who have a dismal record of pursuing charges against those who lie on a gun application, need to enforce the system vigorously.
The assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 should be renewed and tightened, with a special emphasis on prohibiting magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The millions who already own such weapons — unnecessary for hunting or protection — should be required to register them and submit to a background check to reduce the mass killing that produced this agonized debate.
A new law is needed to crack down on the trafficking of guns that an individual has reason to know will be used in a crime, increasing penalties and making it easier to track corrupt gun dealers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needs to have a permanent director, more financing and expanded authority to inspect dealers, and an end to restrictions that keep it from tracking all gun sales and retaining background-check data.
Some lawmakers are already talking about focusing on the background checks and bowing to the gun lobby’s opposition to an assault weapons ban. That shouldn’t stop the administration and its allies from demanding that all these provisions be passed immediately. With the deaths of Newtown’s children still so fresh, the public will be repulsed by lawmakers who stand aside and do nothing.