The Post’s View

Mr. O’Malley prepares a tough package of gun laws

HUSTLING TO keep pace with New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is preparing to lay out his own package of tough new gun laws in the aftermath of December’s bloodbath at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Many Republicans, in thrall to the gun lobby, have scoffed at both governors as intent more on burnishing their viability as presidential candidates in 2016 than on halting gun violence. Granted, discrete legislative moves in individual states are unlikely to change the behavior of criminals or their ability to procure firearms. But it would be wrong to underestimate the value of building momentum in statehouses for muscular gun control that could finally push Congress to act on the federal level.

As reported by The Post’s John Wagner and Aaron C. Davis, Mr. O’Malley plans to propose banning assault rifles; reducing the legal capacity of gun magazines to 10 rounds from the current 20; toughening safety features at public schools; and limiting the ability of mentally ill people with violent tendencies to acquire firearms.

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The centerpiece of his program is legislation that would require anyone who wishes to buy a firearm — excepting hunting rifles and shotguns, which sportsmen tend to use — to submit to fingerprinting by the state police in order to secure a gun owner’s license. No such licensing regimen exists currently in Maryland, although gun buyers have to undergo background checks and, if they are to obtain a permit to carry a weapon, a seven-day waiting period. That’s already more than most states demand.

The logic of fingerprinting and licensing is compelling, given that many handguns used by criminals are procured by “straw buyers” as a favor or for a price — often shortly before the weapons are deployed in the commission of a crime. Straw buyers may dislike background checks, but they are likely to detest making a personal visit to the police to be digitally fingerprinted as a condition of being issued a gun license. (To carry a handgun, an owner in Maryland would still be required to obtain a permit from police, which involves a second background check.)

Mr. O’Malley’s legislation would not require the hundreds of thousands of current gun owners in Maryland to procure licenses retroactively, nor would it confiscate assault rifles from tens of thousands of owners who have already purchased and registered them. And it would not address that many criminals could continue to purchase guns with relative ease, on their own or through straw buyers, in neighboring Virginia. (GOP lawmakers who control the legislature in Richmond are certain to quash attempts at meaningful new gun-control measures there.)

But requiring fingerprints and other identifying information as a means to obtain a gun license has proved workable in New York, New Jersey and other tough-on-guns states. By following suit, Mr. O’Malley is on the right track. Let’s hope Congress pays heed.

 
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