Stricter gun laws are needed now

President's proposal: School shootings in Colorado underscore need for congressional action now.

April 29, 1999

THE PROBLEM undoubtedly lies with our culture, but it also lies with a lack of responsibility in regulating deadly firearms. The horrors at Columbine High School may not have been prevented solely by tougher gun controls and stiffer penalties for violators. But there's reason to believe that it would have been hindered and similar incidents thwarted by reasonable, responsible restrictions on guns.

Instead of interminable debates on the Second Amendment and a "national dialogue" agonizing over the American psyche, prompt and direct action is needed to limit minors' access to firearms, to require waiting periods and background checks of gun buyers and to toughen sanctions for violators.

Evildoers will not scrupulously obey these laws, but the enforcement of gun controls will make their purpose more difficult to accomplish.

Responsible gun owners would have little to fear.

President Clinton's proposed gun-control package includes a long list of previously discussed measures that Congress and the gun lobby have invariably managed to shoot down.

That includes reauthorization of the Brady Bill requiring background checks of gun buyers, a law that expired by congressional will last November. Background checks would be mandatory for buying explosives and for firearm purchases at gun shows (a loophole in current law that may have facilitated the Colorado school rampage). Waiting periods for the sale of firearms and a one-per-month limit on the number of weapons that could be purchased are also on the list.

The legal age for possession of handguns and semiautomatic rifles would be raised from 18 to 21. Parents and others supplying firearms to minors would be legally liable if the weapons are used in a crime. Juveniles convicted of violent crimes would be forbidden to own firearms.

Many people may wonder why such common-sense precautions are not already law.

They need look no further than a Congress that is largely beholden to the gun lobby and mesmerized by the ill-informed constitutional commentators who claim an absolute divine right of unfettered gun ownership.

Mr. Clinton is exploiting the Columbine High tragedy to focus attention on the need for gun controls. That is not a bad thing, considering the importance of the legislation and the studied inaction of Congress in past years. While much discussion of specifics remains, there is increasing public demand that firearms be further controlled, especially their use by juveniles.

States with limits on gun purchases have seen a decline in shootings and crime. Gun locks have proven effective in deterring children from misuse of firearms. Waiting periods and background checks -- if responsibly administered by law enforcement agencies -- have had a positive effect in curbing gun violence.

Guns were the instrument of violence in the Colorado school massacre. Society can control that instrument if it has the will. It would be hard to imagine a more shocking, graphic demonstration of that need.

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