Lawmakers must revisit sensible gun safeguards

The News TribuneMarch 24, 2013 

So far, the 2013 Legislature hasn’t shown much interest in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerously unbalanced people.

Next year may be another story. Let’s consider a few things an older and wiser set of lawmakers ought to do:

Every gun sale – including those between private parties – should be subject to a federal background check. This safeguard is so stupefyingly reasonable that lawmakers should have approved it by acclamation by now.

Instead, it’s been derailed in the Democratic House by pressure from Second Amendment absolutists. Their chief objection, we gather, is that it will lead to registration and confiscation of all firearms by a future tyranny.

But there’s a disconnect between their rhetoric and existing law. If they’re serious, why aren’t they trying to repeal the existing laws that require all licensed gun dealers to run background checks on all buyers?

Dealers not only run checks but also maintain records of sales subject to review by police. So the dreaded registration already exists – and has existed for many years without jackbooted storm troopers sweeping up citizens’ guns.

What’s more, all applications for concealed pistol permits also go through the system and are kept on record by law enforcement. Again, registration without confiscation.

Those requirements apply to all law-abiding people who keep and bear firearms, and nobody’s raising a stink. Yet when private sales are involved, the very same background checks suddenly become a terrifying step toward dictatorship. Come on.

Here’s another proposition that ought to be even less controversial: People who lack the mental competence to use firearms safely shouldn’t have them.

We’re not talking generally about “the mentally ill.” There are many psychiatric disorders – mild depression, for example – that don’t make people dangerous to themselves or others, and shouldn’t be grounds for denying them the civil right of gun ownership.

But there is a small subset of sick individuals who do pose a threat. Multiple shootings, for example, disproportionately involve schizophrenics with a history of drug abuse and prior acts of violence. (Schizophrenia by itself is not a predictor of violence.)

Washington does fairly well, relative to other states, in reporting such cases to the federal agencies that flag people who shouldn’t have guns. But it doesn’t do enough. It should, for example, require mental health professionals to alert law enforcement when patients are making credible threats against particular individuals. Those potential killers should lose their weapons, provisionally, with due process provided to restore their right to firearms.

Maybe it’s going to take a year or so for lawmakers to realize the public will back them on such common-sense enhancements to public safety. In the meantime, cross your fingers and pray the holes in our system won’t enable more shootings.

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