Stu Bykofsky: A rational 'yes' to background checks

Posted: January 18, 2013

EVERYONE - even the National Rifle Association - agrees with this: We must keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The question is how. The single best way - better than banning specific weapons - are universal, computerized background checks.

They are designed to keep guns out of the wrong hands, mainly meaning people with a criminal past (or present, as in the case of those with protection-from-abuse orders against them), the mentally ill, those too young to legally own a gun and those on terrorist lists.

Among the range of remedies that President Obama outlined on Wednesday, background checks came first and is the most important. Also the most likely to get through Congress and the least likely to be mauled by the NRA.

As a gun-owning columnist, I try to follow my own advice against demonizing the "other side," whether that is pro-gun or anti-gun. But if the NRA - which supposedly is on the side of law and order - opposes background checks, it will marginalize itself even more than it has in recent weeks. An amazing 74 percent of its own current and former members, according to a Frank Luntz poll, support background checks. (Among my NRA-member Facebook friends, not one opposed background checks.)

It's estimated that up to 40 percent of guns sold in America are purchased at gun shows without a background check. The gun- show loophole is illogical and dangerous and must be closed.

It is pure common sense, and I can't think of a single rational reason for opposing it.

If you can, let me know. But remember - I said "rational."

Among the other top proposals, for which Vice President Joe Biden deserves praise for leading a task force that hammered out recommendations at warp speed, are a ban on assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and new gun-trafficking laws to prevent illegal trade in guns.

Let's go through these one by one.

We may not get a ban on assault weapons, such as the 10-year ban passed in 1994 (supported by Ronald Reagan), because the Congress has changed and because the 10-year ban didn't have much effect on gun crime. Same with large-capacity magazines.

Basically they are placebos. I support the two bans, not because they will save many lives, but because they may save a few, and I think that if gun owners show some consideration for the other side, we can ask them to do the same for us. Time will tell if that's wishful thinking.

Illegal trafficking? It's already a federal crime. So are straw purchases. The problem is enforcement, and Obama says that he wants to "severely punish" anyone who engages in either.

Here I speak for the responsible gun owners who gripe about the 22,000 gun laws across the nation that go unenforced or lightly enforced. Why, they ask, get so fired up about passing new law when you don't enforce existing law? That's a fair question.

I was disappointed that Obama gave only passing mention to denying guns to people with mental problems and was vague about devoting more resources to mental health.

As to the politics, Obama is being praised for bravely taking on the NRA, but it's not heroic because, as a two-term president, he's at the end of his political road. Members of Congress, on the other hand, fear being targeted by the NRA.

That's why passage of gun or ammo bans is unlikely.

Background checks is the most important change that can be made without affecting the rights of stable, lawful citizens. It is the most effective way to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Even the NRA wants that. Doesn't it?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

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