Weapons check New provisions: Federal law closes some of the loopholes that have made guns far too easy to obtain.

December 06, 1998

THANKS TO new provisions of the 1993 Brady Act, gun shop owners and dealers now can obtain instant information about would-be weapons buyers.

The changes make Maryland's strict gun control laws even tougher by extending background checks to include buyers of rifles and shotguns. Similar to instant credit checks at department stores, the provisions, which took effect last week, mandate quick background checks on purchasers.

And the inclusion of rifles and shotguns is a welcome aid to crime-fighting efforts. Police have reported an increase in crimes involving long guns even as overall serious crime rates have dropped.

Still, the law could do more. Congress eliminated a proposed five-day waiting period in a bow to gun lobby pressure, a mistake that should be corrected as soon as possible. Significantly, though, states with longer waiting periods -- like Maryland's of seven days -- can keep them under the new law.

The provisions have caused some grumbling by gun store owners as purchases were delayed by glitches in the computerized system operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Such delays are understandable for a new system. FBI officials say the system should work smoothly once the bugs are out.

The new regulations also face a legal challenge by the National Rifle Association and others over provisions allowing the FBI to retain records on background checks for six months. They argue that the Brady Act bars the federal government from keeping a national database of gun buyers. They may have a point. Yet their suit seeks to block only maintenance of the database, not the entire act.

Permitting instant background checks on gun purchases should provide a vital crime-fighting tool. After Virginia enacted a 1991 law requiring background checks for all firearms, the state successfully shed its image as a place where guns were easy to purchase.

Implemented nationally, such provisions provide important ways to track and control the flow of firearms.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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