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Promises on the Firing Line
The president can do more in the push for sensible gun laws.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

IN THE PAST few months, some 50 people have been slaughtered in the United States in mass attacks involving firearms. Police officers in Oakland, Calif., and Pittsburgh were mowed down by gunmen using assault weapons. In the past year, thousands have been killed in Mexico, victims of crime rings that cavalierly buy and then smuggle assault weapons from the United States.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón and President Obama said during a news conference in Mexico City last month that roughly 90 percent of the weapons seized in operations against organized crime in Mexico came from the United States. Asked at that news conference whether he planned to keep his campaign promise to reinstate a U.S. ban on assault weapons, Mr. Obama said he still supports the measure. He then proceeded to ease away from the promise by arguing that enacting such a ban would not be easy and pledging to combat gunrunning by enforcing existing laws.

Mr. Obama also has not forged ahead on another campaign promise, to close the loophole that allows buyers at gun shows to forgo background checks if they purchase guns from private sellers or hobbyists rather than from registered dealers. Such loopholes exist in some 30 states. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced a bill last month to close the loophole; Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) filed a similar bill last week in the House. Mr. Obama should work with the lawmakers to make this sensible and lifesaving provision the law of the land.

Mr. Obama did take a positive if timid step in regard to the Tiahrt amendment, which for several years has been automatically attached to spending bills and which limits disclosure of federal information regarding where and when guns used in crimes were sold. Mr. Obama campaigned on a promise to eliminate the amendment. But in his first chance to do so, Mr. Obama instead went partway; he proposes striking a particularly offensive line from the amendment that makes it difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to share gun trace information with its local and state counterparts. Mr. Obama's approach, however, would leave in place the rest of the amendment, including a provision that puts gun trace data off-limits to Freedom of Information Act requests and another that forbids the government from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual inventories to assess how many guns are "missing" and have probably made their way onto the black market. Mr. Obama should have rejected the amendment in its entirety, forcing lawmakers to reinstate it if they wished to.

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