Tighter Gun Control

THE Brady gun-control bill has become law in 27 states, whose officials now are implementing its provisions. The central one: a five-day waiting period, during which prospective purchasers undergo background checks.

Another 23 states already have their own waiting period regulations.

Only three states that currently impose waiting periods will have to revise their laws: Alabama, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. All three have 48-hour waiting periods but have not required background checks. Any state can become exempt from the Brady waiting period by setting up its own instant-check or permit-to-purchase system. The new federal law authorizes expenditure of $200 million a year to upgrade and computerize a national criminal-background check system that is slated to become operational in five years.

If a dealer sells a firearm without sending in the prescribed documents for the background check and without waiting the five days provided for in the Brady law, his federal firearms license can be suspended for six months or revoked, and he can be fined up to $5,000. The harshness of the penalty, according to an official of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, ``depends on whether it was done in error or willfully.''

The new gun law, named for James Brady, former White House press secretary who was severely wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, appears well conceived. Consistency is important to an effort such as this, and for this reason it probably would be better to require all states to follow the federal pattern.

For example, state and federal gun licenses for dealers have been very inexpensive. But the federal fee for a three-year license, set at $30 since 1968, is slated to rise to $198 in February. Some say it should be higher. US Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen wants the fee raised to $600. That, he believes, could eliminate a large number of kitchen-table ``dealers,'' who are a ready source of weapons for criminal activities.

The recent campaign against loosely controlled possession and use of handguns, including passage of the Brady bill, has at least brought to the attention of many Americans the need for reform and better control of the firearms trade.

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