Making Gun Laws Work

"The law is good but more is needed." That's how the Brady gun-control bill struck 74 percent of Americans in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll after the law was passed three years ago.

Indeed, the law is good - it mandates a five-day waiting period, during which prospective purchasers undergo background checks - but it doesn't go far enough. Guns are still too easy to buy in too many states.

That became evident last Sunday, when a distraught Palestinian man went on a shooting spree on top of the Empire State Building. Ali Abu Kamal had flown to Florida to purchase his gun, rather than buying it in New York, where identification and residential requirements are stricter. In New York, gun purchasers must be fingerprinted and undergo an extensive criminal and psychiatric background check. A nonresident also must obtain a license from the police, a process that can take months.

In Florida, Mr. Abu Kamal passed a criminal background check, but he was able to obtain an identification card from the State of Florida after living there only three weeks (rather than the federally mandated 90 days). He used the address of a motel room to apply for the I.D. and used the card to purchase the weapon.

This tragedy was avoidable. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could mandate that gun sellers in all states require another form of proof of residence, such as a utility or rent bill. According to Handgun Control Inc., a gun-control lobbying organization, a stricter check of residency requirements would help prevent the kind of interstate gunrunning that Abu Kamal found all too easy.

Guns aren't the root of violence, but their easy availability facilitates and may encourage it. Stronger, more uniform federal standards governing the purchase of weapons would go a long way toward making people's lives safer. Here's the "more is needed" the poll respondents were talking about.

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