The Gun-Show Loophole

Following the Columbine tragedy two years ago, Congress was quick - perhaps too quick - to rally around gun-control measures. A juvenile justice bill, which included a measure to close the so-called gun-show loophole, was hastily developed. What was the result? Nothing. The bill fell apart in a conference committee - no compromise was reached.

Yet this week, some 18 senators signed on to a bill sponsored by Rhode Island's Jack Reed (D) that would close one of the larger loopholes in the 1993 Brady gun control bill. Mr. Reed's bill requires background checks of individuals purchasing guns at gun shows.

One potential problem with the legislation: It's identical to the bill that failed in 1999. And the political currents that keep gun-control bills at bay haven't changed that much.

The Brady Act requires only licensed firearms dealers to make background checks. Yet, some 25 percent of dealers at gun shows are not licensed, and so can sell guns without the check.

Enter Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, who've drafted a bill similar to Reed's, but with some modifications that don't change the basic thrust of Reed's bill - and may make it more palatable for passage. It's not been introduced yet.

Efforts to keep guns out of convicted criminals' hands need the kind of tighter control these bills would provide. The senators with different bills should roll their sleeves up and work together to increase the chances of getting something meaningful passed.

While some 18 states have passed legislation to close this loophole, 32 have not, and it doesn't appear likely that they will. When federal investigations reveal gun shows are the second- largest source of illegal guns, a national law is called for.

Critics say the background checks are time-consuming. Yet, a General Accounting Office study shows 95 percent of all checks are completed within two hours, 72 percent within two to four minutes. And the checks that take longer are 20 times more likely to turn up a convicted felon - well worth the wait. The speed of these checks will likely improve, as more and more court records go online.

These senators will now have to work to hold not only their fellow legislators, but President Bush, accountable. On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush spoke in favor of closing this loophole. We hope it will soon be time for him to sign such a bill into law.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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