THOUGH the state legislators in Virginia have killed for this year any possibility of a state-required waiting period on purchases of firearms, lawmakers with differing views still have an opportunity to unite behind basic public safety measures that every law-abiding gun owner could live with as well. One would simply expand an existing background-check requirement on sales of certain handguns to cover almost all firearms. The House has overwhelmingly approved this measure, and the Senate should do the same.
Though a waiting period would be preferable -- because it allows certain purchasers to cool off if they are contemplating suicide, say, or violent acts of vengeance -- at least a criminal background check can stop sales to people who clearly should not be armed. State and local police have noted that the law put on the books two years ago has proved successful in arresting fugitives and others with records who have attempted to buy handguns. The criminal background checks are made through a computer network that allows dealers to approve or reject gun sales right away. Many gun owners have reported that the existing law has been easy for them to live with.
Another measure, sponsored by Sen. Moody E. Stallings Jr. (D-Virginia Beach) and many colleagues, is also a matter of public safety that gun owners in other parts of the country have had no problem accepting. The bill says simply that "it shall be unlawful for any person to recklessly store or leave a loaded firearm so as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of 15."
That's all it says -- and the key word, says Sen. Stallings, is "recklessly." This is not a measure aimed at the loaded gun that is in a locked dresser drawer; nor is it a bill that needs the kind of amendments that weighed down last year's measure to the point where it became unacceptable even to its original sponsors and then expired in a conference committee. Safety-conscious gun owners throughout the state -- those who take pride in storing their weapons safely, out of the hands of children -- can welcome this effort to make their good habits prevail. In turn, the legislators in Richmond should resist attempts to play with the language and thereby kill this measure. It is a sound public safety proposal as worded -- and should go on the books this year.