Dean Rohrer NewsArt

Editorial: Congress must act on gun violence

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 9:21 am

Congress is rightly dispensing with the extremes in the gun debate, and focusing on rational measures intended to reduce gun-related carnage.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that law-abiding people have the right to own and keep guns in their homes. The high court also has made clear that the Second Amendment has limits.

With those principles in mind, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is taking the lead for House Democrats on the issue, and that is good. A Vietnam veteran who is a gun owner and hunter, Thompson is a canny politician who is one of the more moderate members of the California congressional delegation.

As he made clear during a visit to The Bee's editorial board last week, he and members of the House gun violence prevention task force are homing in on common-sense fixes, some of which are patterned after California laws.

Although Republicans may oppose some of the measures, House Speaker John Boehner must allow them to come to a vote. Voters should demand nothing less.

Undoubtedly, hard-line supporters of the National Rifle Association's position will oppose reasonable legislation to ban certain semi-automatic military-style firearms, and limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds, the California standard. But the measures must be debated and votes taken.

No member of Congress should oppose universal background checks of people seeking to buy guns, tougher penalties against straw purchases, and more funding to help states deal with severely mentally ill individuals, including early intervention and greater access to services.

Thompson is seeking support for legislation patterned after a 2001 California law establishing a program by which state and local police can seize guns of people who bought them legally but later lost the right by committing a crime or being deemed severely mentally ill.

In California, the Armed Prohibited Persons program has taken thousands of guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. The federal government should provide funding so other states can create similar programs, and the California delegation ought to lead in this effort.

Democrats undoubtedly will support the measure, including several who voted for the bill in 2001 when they were in the Legislature. The concept deserves bipartisan support. Two Republicans now in Congress voted for the 2001 bill when they were in the Legislature, Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Rep. John Campbell of Orange County.

They should embrace it on the federal level.

Congress also must lift restrictions imposed over the years on research into gun violence and on the ability of law enforcement to release data related to guns. There can be no excuse for not wanting answers to basic questions.

Yes, there is a basic right of law-abiding people to own guns. But people are sickened by the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the movie theater in Colorado, the temple in Wisconsin, the shopping center in Tucson and others. Voters will be watching; Congress must act.

Principles of the gun violence task force

Earlier this month, the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, chaired by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, released these principles for congressional action in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

• Support the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.

• Support citizens' rights to possess firearms for hunting, shooting sports, defense and other lawful purposes.

• Reinstate and strengthen the 1994-2004 federal ban on assault weapons.

• Reinstate the 1994-2004 federal ban on assault magazines.

• Require a background check for every gun sale, while respecting reasonable exceptions for gifts between family members and temporary loans for sporting purposes.

• Strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database.

• Prosecute prohibited buyers who attempt to purchase firearms and others who violate federal firearms laws.

• Pass legislation aimed specifically at cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasing (purchasing a gun for a prohibited buyer).

• Restore funding for public safety and law enforcement initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.

• Apply prevention and early intervention strategies to prevent problems before they start.

• Close the holes in our mental-health system and make sure that care is available for those who need it.

• Help our communities get unwanted and illegal guns out of the hands of those who don't want them or shouldn't have them.

• Support responsible gun ownership, including proper storage of guns.

• Take steps to enhance school safety.

• Address our culture's glorification of violence as seen and heard though our movies, television shows, music and video games.

More information on these principles and the task force can be found at: www.scribd.com

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