Mayor Article

Six Months Since Columbine, Gun Safety Legislation Still Stalled in Congress

By Ed Somers


October 20 marked the six month anniversary of the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado which shocked the nation: The day came and went with Congress still failing to approve any gun safety legislation.

The House and Senate conference committee on juvenile justice legislation (HR 1501) has not reported a final bill. The Senate version of the bill contains gun safety reforms supported by The U.S. Conference of Mayors, while the House version contains no such provisions.

Debate between the House and Senate centers on the issue of background checks at gun show. Under current law, non-licensed private sellers of guns are not required to conduct Brady background checks on purchasers of weapons at gun shows and other such venues. The Senate provision would require that all sellers of weapons at gun shows be required to conduct a background check, and would provide up to three business days to conduct the check if needed.

(See box on page 6 for list of persons prohibited under federal law from purchasing a weapon.)

While 75 percent of all background checks are completed within 30 seconds and 95 percent within 2 hours, when a check cannot be completed within 24 hours, the individual being checked is nearly 20 times more likely to be a felon or other prohibited buyer than the average purchaser according to federal statistics.

The House negotiators are arguing for a gun show provision which would allow as little as 24 hours for background checks, and apply this limitation to both non-licensed and licensed dealers, which would be a major weakening of current law.

Also at issue in the conference committee is the minimum size of a gun show to be covered and procedures for maintaining records of those checks.

In addition to closing the gun show loophole, the Senate bill includes:

  • a ban on the importation of large capacity (more than ten rounds) ammunition clips;

  • strict penalties for juveniles who buy firearms to commit a felony and for adults who knowingly supply firearms to juveniles to commit crimes;

  • a ban on juvenile possession (under 18) of semi-automatic assault weapons;

  • a requirement that child safety locks be sold with every handgun sold in the United States;

  • establishment of a lifetime ban from owning a gun for anyone convicted of a violent crime while a juvenile, but only after extensive and complicated changes in state and local practices; and

  • a call for the Federal Trade Commission to study whether the firearms industry tries to market guns to children.

Gun Lawsuits Lead to Industry Changes

While Congress continues to debate gun safety provisions, other important developments have taken place, several of which appear to have come in response to lawsuits filed against the gun industry by cities and counties across the country.

First, Coltís Manufacturing has announced that is will stop producing less-expensive civilian handguns and spin off its smart-gun project into a new company, iColt.

Second, Smith and Wesson Corp., the countyís leading handgun manufacturer, will now require dealers to sign a code of ethics regarding the sale and distribution of its product.

A letter was mailed in mid-July to 3,500 registered dealers giving them 60 days (which has been extended 30 more days) to pledge that they would avoid sales practices that facilitate the illegal flow of weapons to young people and criminals. Dealers are also required to provide proof that their federal licenses are up to date, as well as other information to show that they are legitimate.

The company has said that dealers who refuse to sign or are accused of abetting illegal sales will be banned from selling Smith and Wesson products.

In addition to the above actions by gun companies, United Parcel Service (UPS), the nationís largest shipper of handguns, will stop ground delivery of the weapons to reduce the risk of theft by employees. The company will ship handguns only through its Next Day Air service. Packages sent by air spend less time in transit and are handled by fewer people. Federal Express has been shipping handguns only by air for 20 years, and the U.S. Postal Service ships guns only to police agencies.


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