For an institution that seems able to do little that is productive, especially on high-profile issues, Congress is making solid progress on, of all things, a gun control law. Credit Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for much of that.
Congress has been locked in a bitter debate about gun control since the horrifying shootings in Newtown, Conn., with many Democrats pushing for restrictions on assault-style weapons and many Republicans claiming – incorrectly – that no law can be consistent with Second Amendment guarantees on gun rights.
But while those arguments continue unabated, there has been bipartisan movement in both the House and Senate on a bill that would crack down on gun trafficking. Gillibrand noted this week that in New York, nine out of 10 guns used in crimes are criminally trafficked, illegal weapons.
The bill, which Gillibrand believes will draw the 60 votes that are now routinely needed to accomplish anything in the Senate, will take aim at straw purchasers who buy weapons for people who are prohibited by law from doing so.
Gillibrand has been working across the aisle to take into account the concerns of Republicans, said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. As it stands now, the bill would make it a federal crime to ship or otherwise transfer two or more guns to anyone known to be barred by law from owning them. The penalty is stiff: up to 15 years in prison, and up to 25 years for leaders of gun trafficking rings. A bipartisan gun trafficking bill is also pending in the House.
New York’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, is negotiating another bill that would help keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. His proposal would expand background checks to all gun purchases, including those made at gun shows. That would close a loophole that allows gun sales without any government review in many states.
These are important developments, and evidence that even in this time of divisive politics it is possible for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground on important matters.
Indeed, it is fair to say that Washington might have produced a better health reform bill if Republicans had been willing to take part in the process rather than simply trying to block it. Both parties should take a lesson from the effort to clamp down on gun trafficking and take action to deal with other pressing issues, including immigration, the deficit and more.
It is important for Congress to continue efforts to restrict the sale of assault weapons and to limit the number of rounds an ammunition magazine can hold. The protests of gun rights activists notwithstanding, such restrictions can be crafted without running afoul of the Second Amendment. The argument is about politics and public safety, not constitutionality.