Sensible limits on gun sales
How to stop future Jared Loughners
KNOWN DRUG abusers have been prohibited from legally purchasing guns since the late 1960s. Yet Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of gunning down 19 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (DAriz.), was able to buy two weapons despite failing an Army drug screening process.
The Post’s James V. Grimaldi reports that a Clinton-era policy may have been responsible for the lapse. In 1998, under then-Attorney General Janet Reno, the Justice Department directed federal agencies not to forward the results of voluntary drug tests to the National Instant Background Check System, the database that contains the names of prohibited purchasers. The reason: The Justice Department did not want to discourage individuals with drug problems from seeking treatment. Although the Reno policy applies only to the results of drug tests, the Army apparently believed it was also prohibited from submitting Mr. Loughner’s apparent admissions about illegal drug use to the database.
The Obama Justice Department is rightly reviewing the reporting policy and should reverse it by giving clear instructions about the obligation to submit timely and accurate information. Encouraging drug abusers to confront their problems is a worthy goal, but keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of impaired individuals is an even greater imperative.
More fixes are needed to the laws and regulations governing the database. Felons, including those convicted on drug charges, are prohibited from buying guns.
But confirmed reports of drug abuse or failed drug tests remain in the database for only one year, after which the once-“prohibited purchaser” may again legally reenter the market. Mr. Loughner may have been prevented from purchasing a shotgun in 2009 had the 2008 report from the Army been in the database. But the record would not have been in the database in 2010 when he purchased the Glock 19 semiautomatic weapon used in the Arizona shooting. Officials should lengthen the time such reports remain on the books; Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a 500-member coalition led by New York’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Thomas M. Menino, is pressing for five years.
Lawmakers should also endorse the eminently sensible legislation introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to outlaw sales of the high-capacity ammunition clips that enabled Mr. Loughner to shoot some 30 bullets in a matter of seconds. Drug abuse history or not, no one should be in possession of a weapon that can so easily and senselessly be used to slaughter multitudes.