Outside editorial: Drawing a line on guns

Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009

The nation dodged a bullet Wednesday. In a rare defeat for the powerful gun lobby, the Senate routed an amendment that would have federalized concealed-weapons laws by forcing all states that issue such permits to gun owners to honor those granted by other states. States with strict rules regarding concealed firearms, such as California, essentially would have had their laws nullified by states with lax rules. Yet so spineless have gun-control advocates in Congress been in recent years that there was no guarantee common sense would trump political cowardice. It was a nailbiter, but the amendment failed on a 58-39 vote.

The measure, introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., had inspired a significant degree of ideological distortion as conservatives fought hard, ironically, to trample states' rights.

Standards for concealed-weapons permits vary dramatically by state. Some deny them to people with drunken-driving convictions and substance-abuse problems, while others do not. Texas and Florida even issue permits to non-residents, including to people who fail the background checks and requirements in their home states. Needless to say, if the Thune amendment had passed, today would be Christmas in July for gang members, organized-crime syndicates and drug traffickers.

Any way you slice it, more concealed weapons mean more risk. Consider the price Texas has paid. In 2000, a Los Angeles Times investigation found that more than 400 people with prior criminal convictions, including rapists and armed robbers, had been issued concealed-weapons permits, and thousands of permit holders had been arrested for criminal behavior or found to be mentally unstable. Also, a Violence Policy Center study found that concealed-weapons license holders in Texas were arrested for weapons-related crimes at a rate 81 percent higher than the state's general population.

One of the gun lobby's favorite canards is that only law-abiding citizens obtain gun permits. But in several states, criminals are allowed to carry concealed firearms. Alaska, for example, permits adults to carry concealed weapons without a license, background check or training - even if they have multiple misdemeanor convictions, including misdemeanor sex offenses against minors.

Let's hope Wednesday's victory stiffens the resolve of legislators who have feared to go toe-to-toe with the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby's fanatical disregard for public safety is not going to stop, and it will take courage to halt the agenda of those who watch as 276 Americans a day are injured or killed by a bullet but who think the answer is to arm everyone.

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