California Republicans, who hope to make crime an election-year issue in 2014, ought to first show they're serious about protecting public safety by embracing legislation that would require people to undergo background checks before they buy guns.
So far, Republican members of Congress from California are siding against public opinion and public safety, and aligning themselves with the pro-gun lobby, which opposes the background check legislation.
Six and a half months ago, a gunman killed 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Too many politicians think the public will forget the wrenching images of Dec. 14, 2012. They must be proved wrong.
The U.S. Senate failed to pass background check legislation last month. But the effort is too important to drop after a single vote. The bill by Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, could be revived, especially if identical House legislation gathers momentum.
Introduced by Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, and California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena, House Resolution 1565 has 178 co-sponsors in the 435-seat House, a significant number by any measure.
The legislation is hardly an overreach. California long has required background checks, with no apparent impact on gun purchases by law-abiding people who have no history of serious mental illness.
In most other states, however, background checks are required only if gun purchases are made through licensed gun dealers. Currently, the background check requirement doesn't apply in many state when private parties sell guns at gun shows, for instance, or over the Internet. The King-Thompson bill would close that gaping hole.
The legislation would require that states determine whether all prospective buyers have been convicted of serious crimes, have domestic violence misdemeanors, or have been deemed by judges to have had serious mental illness for which they were held for treatment.
Additionally, the bill would earmark $400 million to help states upgrade their computer systems, so they could report information about people who are prohibited from owning guns to the National Instant Background Check System.
Every California Democratic member of the House has signed on as a co-sponsor of the King-Thompson legislation. So far, every California Republican has ducked this basic public safety bill.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Turlock, has shown no willingness to buck the NRA on the issue of background checks.
Nor has Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a freshman Republican from the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, or Rep. Tom McClintock, the Elk Grove Republican whose district includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.
Rep. David Valadao, whose district includes Kern and Kings counties, has not yet decided how he would vote on the measure if it reaches the floor, according to his chief of staff. But that's one of the issues. If more Republicans were to push for a vote, Speaker John Boehner would bring the legislation to the floor.
For a time, the horror of the Sandy Hook slaughter seemed to have hardened the resolve of politicians to finally start strengthening gun laws. Some, like Democrat Thompson and Republican King, remain committed. But too many other politicians are counting on the short memories of the voting public. Don't let them forget.
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