This week's task force report on violent crime provides President Reagan with strong ammunition for coming down squarely on the side of new federal gun control laws. The bipartisan panel, made up of police and law enforcement experts, was appointed by the President's own attorney general. The cochairmen are hardly associated with the "anti-gun" lobby or the political left -- former Attorney General Griffin Bell, and Illinois Gov. James Thompson, a Republican and no-nonsense former prosecutor. Most important, the report recommends a number of modest handgun controls as well as mandatory punishment for gun-related crimes.
Mr. Reagan, who in the past has eschewed new gun control laws, should endorse the panel's proposals. Taken together the recommendations add up to a genuine opportunity to at last impose meaningful federal curbs on handguns, which are used in the killing of thousands of Americans a year.
The task force was not oblivious either to the political difficulties in passing new gun laws or to the demands of sporting groups and private citizens who wish to own handguns. Gun control solutions, the panel said, "should balance the importance of preserving legitimate reasons for owning guns and the costs associated with that ownership."
The recommendations would neither take away the right of Americans to own handguns nor in any sense "ban" such weapons. They would provide for a mandatory waiting period before a handgun can be sold to allow for a check on the buyer. Obviously, no law-abiding person need fear such a check. As governor of California, it might be noted, Mr. Reagan approved such a requirement.
The panel recommends a ban on the importation of unassembled parts of handguns. This provision would close the loophole on the making of small and easily concealable "Saturday night specials" used in many street crimes. Currently such guns cannot be brought into the US if fully assembled. A ban on parts, however, would not affect collectors or private gun owners who purchase conventional -- hence, legal -- revolvers. And the panel recommends that handgun owners be required to report thefts of handguns to the police for purposes of tracing.
The panel also recommends mandatory sentencing for the use of a gun in the commission of a crime (favored by the President), and enactment of a new category of felony for firearms assaults on a number of federal officials beyond those, including the president, who are already covered.
What, in good reason, would be grounds for opposing such proposals? That such laws would be the "entering wedge" for stiffer measures? But that hardly follows, given the strong opposition by Mr. Reagan to proposed registration or confiscation laws.
It is outrageous to allow a nation to be held captive by gun-toting criminals. Not to accept even the minimal recommendations of the attorney general's own panel on violent crime would be irresponsibility of the highest order.