Imagine Republicans and Democrats coming together on a sensible set of tougher gun laws. Impossible, right?
Except that it is happening in Connecticut, even as similar talks in Washington are in danger of falling apart. Congress needs to grow some spine and learn from the example legislators in Hartford are setting.
Today, both parties there are expected to collaborate on passing the nations broadest response yet to the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Ct. The bill requires universal background checks on all gun sales and forces those convicted of weapons offenses to register with the state. It would ban more so-called assault weapons than the state already does, and would require state-issued certificates for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition.
Wait til the NRA hears about this.
What Im proud of is that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, understood that some issues, and this one particularly, should rise above politics, said Republican John McKinney, Connecticuts Senate minority leader.
Too many in Washington are not heeding that message. Theyre listening to the National Rifle Association, the group that looks down on politicians who support any gun restrictions whatsoever. A front-page story in Tuesdays Washington Post described how an aggressive NRA campaign threatens to derail passage of gun laws that seemed likely after Newtown.
Negotiations over a proposal to require universal background checks have stalled. And the NRA is trying to neuter a plan to make gun trafficking a federal crime, the Post reported. The Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed in principle to criminalizing all straw purchases, in which someone buys a gun for someone else. The NRA is pushing instead for authorities to have to prove that the purchaser knew he was buying a gun for someone prohibited from buying one or for someone who intended to use it in a crime. Thats a high threshold that undercuts the provision entirely.
Nine out of 10 Americans support universal background checks, a CBS News/New York Times poll found, and that number is consistent across both parties and among gun-owners and non-owners. The NRA itself was OK with the checks years ago, and NRA ally Sen. John McCain made TV ads in 2000 calling for them. With rights come responsibilities, McCain said at the time.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who could face a tough reelection fight next year, supports the gun trafficking provision. She generally supports background checks as well, her office told the editorial board Tuesday, but her support for legislation will depend on the details, such as whether there are adequate exemptions.
We understand the politics Hagan faces, but she should do the right thing to protect North Carolinians and all Americans. To be sure, no gun control laws will prevent all tragedies. A comprehensive response must also address shortcomings in the mental health system, require better enforcement of existing law and provide tougher sentences for gun crimes. But requiring universal background checks and criminalizing gun trafficking are common sense steps that dont impose on law-abiding citizens. If they save one life, they should be enacted.
Connecticut legislators can come together because an unthinkable tragedy struck their state. Do we have to wait for such violence to strike other states before the rest of us adopt the same common sense?
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