Awash in guns

August 21, 1991

Can anything be done to stem the avalanche of cheap handguns that is turning our cities into armed camps? Now even 10-year-olds strut around brandishing pistols with which to rob and terrorize passers-by. The epidemic of murder and mayhem seems to grow more random and bizarre each week; one gets the impression the city is becoming one vast shooting gallery in which people have replaced paper targets and the bodies of innocent victims pile up with depressing regularity.

Tougher gun laws might help law enforcement officials track down the perpetrators of crimes more quickly and, over time, ultimately reduce the supply of guns available to malefactors. The police, for example, have yet to discover who gave the 10-year-old arrested last week the weapon he used to threaten another child. It was the second time since May police had picked the boy up on handgun violation charges. Yet if the child had been arrested in connection with, say, a stolen car, it would have been relatively easy to determine who the car's owner was and to what degree that adult bore responsibility for the child's behavior. Surely it is reasonable to make mandatory handgun registration as universal as auto registration.

A national policy of mandatory, universal handgun registration -- and an outright ban on such weapons as assault rifles and the cheap handguns known as "Saturday Night Specials" -- is badly needed, as Governor Schaefer suggested this week at the National Governor's Association meeting in Seattle, Wash. The current patchwork of state gun laws varies so widely as to be virtually useless. Universal registration certainly is no panacea to the gun violence that claims thousands of lives each year. But it is the kind of reasonable first step Congress and the states can no longer afford to dismiss out of hand.

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