Sen­si­ble lim­its on gun sales

How to stop fu­ture Jared Lough­n­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION -

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.

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