PD Editorial: A familiar plan for safer firearms laws
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 2:12 p.m.
No law is guaranteed to prevent a mass murder. Laws don’t prevent speeding, tax evasion or drug abuse either.
Yet they’re still on the books. Why? Because they promote public safety, and they establish standards of conduct in our communities. So will modest restrictions on gun ownership.
The proposals put forth by President Barack Obama are just that — modest restrictions to promote public safety by discouraging gun violence. They won’t stop every massacre, but some lives will be saved.
Much of Obama’s checklist already has been enacted in California — without infringing the rights of law-abiding citizens:
The manufacture, sale and possession of assault weapons is prohibited.
Ammunition magazines are limited to 10 rounds.
The sale and possession of armor-piercing ammunition is prohibited.
Background checks are required on all firearms sales.
Yet the state Department of Justice reported that more than 600,000 firearms were sold here in 2011, and the total was projected to top 700,000 last year. Despite the restrictions, gun sales have doubled since 2002.
Over approximately the same period, California’s mandatory background checks resulted in a rejection rate of about 1 percent, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Justice Department.
In short, California’s gun laws, which are often described as the strictest in the nation, don’t prevent people from legally acquiring firearms. Neither have they resulted in criminals preying on an unarmed populace — violent crime in California has declined faster than the national average, even as the state has tightened its gun laws.
Getting similar measures through Congress won’t be easy. “I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Obama pledged.
He’ll have to. The National Rifle Association has great influence on Capitol Hill, and it will try to block any change, no matter how sensible.
Obama’s proposals are sensible, most Americans favor them, and this fight is worth waging. Just ask those grieving families in Newtown, Conn.
This isn’t about seizing weapons, regardless of hysterical claims to the contrary. It’s about leaving military firepower to the military and keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
Among Obama’s proposals, the greatest impact may come from closing a loophole in the federal law requiring a background check to prevent felons from obtaining firearms.
Unlike California, the federal law exempts private sales and sales at gun shows. In practice, that means that 40 percent of gun sales are completed without any background check. A thorough check also can identify people deemed too mentally unstable to own firearms.
Among his executive orders, Obama took several steps to make background checks more thorough with incentives for states to share information, ensuring that federal agencies do the same and making clear that health care providers can contact authorities when patients threaten to use violence. Obama also ordered stricter enforcement of existing laws and stepped up research on causes and prevention.
These aren’t radical proposals. They aren’t inconsistent with the Second Amendment. They will prevent needless violence, and Congress should enact them.
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