The Obama administration, missing in action on gun control

Saturday, March 20, 2010; A14

APPARENTLY, one of the weapons John Patrick Bedell used to shoot two Pentagon police officers this month was sold to a Georgia gun dealer by the Memphis Police Department, which had confiscated the weapon during a drug bust. The gun was sold several times more, including at a gun show in Nevada last year. Little is known about that gun-show purchaser because of giant loopholes in the law that allow unlicensed private vendors, or "hobbyists," to dispense with federally mandated background checks. A couple of lessons can be drawn.

First, it is absurd for police departments to put guns back into circulation. The possibility of making a little bit of money from the sale of illegal weapons or swapping them for guns more suitable for law enforcement is not worth the cost in lives and safety. Police departments should put a halt to this practice; legally confiscated guns should be destroyed after they are no longer needed as evidence -- a measure endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Second, there are steps the Obama administration could take immediately to reduce the danger to law enforcement officers and other law-abiding citizens. Legislation is needed to close the gun-show loophole to require background checks for all purchasers.

But the 500-strong, bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns has outlined 40 steps that the Obama administration could take on its own to get illegal guns off the streets. The FBI should alert local officials when a would-be purchaser has failed a background check; such an alert would put local law enforcement officials on notice that a "prohibited purchaser" with a disqualifying criminal history or an outstanding domestic violence warrant is trying to obtain a weapon.

The mayors' group sensibly urges the Justice Department to step up prosecutions of the most dangerous "prohibited purchasers," including convicted murders and rapists who by law are barred from owning weapons. The administration should also heed the mayors' call to crack down on illegal gun-show sales to criminals and straw purchasers.

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