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Closing Deadly Loopholes

April 24, 2002

No one should feel much safer after the California Supreme Court's wise decision Monday to uphold the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' 1999 ban of gun shows at the county's fairgrounds in Pomona.

Each year, 4,500 such firearms flea markets nationwide flood neighborhoods with guns purchased by hunters, collectors, violent criminals, people with severe mental illness, citizens seeking a means of self-defense and individuals with no easily understood reason for desiring a weapon.

It was the pistol, shotgun and rifles purchased by two people in the last category that persuaded lawmakers that the so-called "gun show loophole"--no waiting period, no background check--is a matter of life and death.

In those two now-infamous 1998 purchases, the young man and woman showed IDs verifying that they were over 18 and bought weapons at Denver-area shows. Soon thereafter, they gave or sold the weapons to two minors: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 25, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Writers Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Gun control-An editorial Wednesday should have stated that California law already requires background checks for gun purchases at gun shows. In other states, however, federal law exempts sales by unlicensed dealers at gun shows from the background check.

Four months later, Klebold and Harris used the guns to kill 12 students and a teacher and to shoot more than two dozen others before killing themselves.

Saturday was the third anniversary of that slaughter, and the loophole survives, spilling ever more weapons into a market that remains ludicrously laissez faire. Federal law requires that handgun buyers pass a background check before taking weapons home, a reasonable request for hunters, collectors and other legitimate consumers. But that law applies only when a firearm is bought at a gun store. Sales at gun shows, the bazaars held every weekend of the year around California and other states, are exempt.

Colorado's Columbine massacre prompted many in Congress to try to close the background check loophole, but they failed in the face of opposition from the gun lobby.

Now, three years later, a bipartisan group of senators is trying again. They have introduced two bills requiring background checks for handguns bought at gun shows, and the sponsors are hoping to attach them to bigger legislation on whose coattails they might ride to passage.

Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is pushing one measure and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) are co-sponsoring another. The McCain-Lieberman bill is more lenient. Its definition of "gun show" includes fewer of these events than does Reed's bill, and it would subject gun buyers and sellers to shorter waiting periods. But these differences are less important than keeping weapons away from the people who want a gun but not the slightest scrutiny.

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