Closing Gun-Control Loopholes

The Supreme Court Monday refused to hear a legal challenge to California's ban on assault weapons. The decision sends another powerful signal to those who would use the Second Amendment as an argument for the rights of individuals to own guns, including the National Rifle Association.

Surely the right to keep and bear arms, outside a militia, shouldn't include Uzis, AK-47s, and similar assault weapons. The high court's decision should also firmly set Congress on course to renew the federal ban on assault weapons when it expires next year.

But when it comes to keeping guns out of criminal hands, there's still much more work to do.

For instance, among the myriad provisions in a giant $373 billion omnibus spending bill currently before Congress is a rule change regarding gun-owner background checks. It would have the federal government destroy the record of a background check on a gun buyer within 24 hours - instead of the 90-day rule now in effect.

Keeping such records for only one day would deprive law-enforcement officials of a valuable tool to track individuals, including potential terrorists, who may have slipped through the Justice Department's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

It's very difficult for gun-rights advocates to make a strong argument against 90-day rule. A General Accounting Office report last year found 228 guns mistakenly sold to NICS- approved buyers over a six-month period - guns that law-enforcement officials later had to retrieve using NICS information. And the problems were discovered only after 24 hours had passed. Extend that statistic to a year, or five years, and one can more easily see the ironclad importance of the 90-day rule.

Gun-control opponents have long raised privacy concerns about the 90-day rule. They also argue that other tracking methods are available, such as checking the paper records of the information gunstore owners transmit to NICS. But that's often a cumbersome and time-consuming process: Criminals routinely use fake IDs and aliases, and frequently switch locations to elude detection.

If an approved gun-purchaser turns out to be a terrorist, time becomes even more critical.

An even more egregious problem concerns the Justice Department's narrow interpretation of the 1993 Brady gun-control law. If an individual who's on the FBI terrorist watch list somehow clears the NICS background check and is able to buy a gun, Justice's interpretation prevents counterterrorism officials from seeing those records.

Clearly, if a suspected terrorist buys a gun, other law-enforcement officials should know about it.

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