Closing a Brady Loophole

The outlook for new gun-control laws, always dim, has grown dimmer. That was pretty clear from the lack of any calls in Congress for new legislation following the recent school shootings in California.

This waning of political energy doesn't imply, however, that the need for more-effective laws, and law enforcement, has waned also.

One major theme, heard particularly among Republican office-holders, is stronger enforcement of existing gun laws. That's fine, and the first logical step is more resources for the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which has the huge task of regulating more than 100,000 licensed gun dealers.

Also needed is some tightening of existing law. Take, for example, the country's best-known gun statute, the Brady law, which requires background checks for anyone buying a handgun in the United States.

The checks are meant to ferret out people with criminal backgrounds. They are estimated to have denied gun purchases to more than 600,000 felons and fugitives since the law was enacted in 1993. But the checks are easily thwarted by anyone with a false ID - something many criminals, presumably, have access to.

Investigators for the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found out just how easy it is to evade the law. They concocted false identification using off-the-shelf software, and visited gun dealers in five states. They had no trouble buying weapons in any of them.

That's because the Brady system is simply a negative check. If a buyer doesn't trigger a negative response from federal or state databases, the sale is approved. False IDs slip right through. And that's a considerable loophole.

Some determined gun-control advocates in Congress will use the GAO report to push for legislation to close that loophole by expanding the scope of Brady checks. What could be more reasonable? Let's hope their colleagues listen and take action.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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