We’re not sure which to marvel at more — that a bipartisan group of senators has come up with a compromise or that the compromise involves gun control.
Both constitute progress, even if negotiators have some selling to do with their peers.
According to the Associated Press, the compromise would make it a serious federal crime to buy a gun for someone who isn’t legally allowed to own one. As Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said, “Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this like a paperwork violation, these crimes under our bill would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison.”
Such offenses, in which a “straw” buyer purchases a gun for someone who could not pass a background check, often go unprosecuted because the penalties don’t make it worth the trouble.
In addition to Sen. Collins, co-sponsors include Sens. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican; Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat; Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat; and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.
A bipartisan group of House members has introduced a similar bill, which reflects relatively broad support for efforts to confront gun trafficking. Other aspects of gun control, particularly an assault weapons ban, garner less support, even among Democrats.
Later this week, the gun trafficking measure, a bill to ban assault weapons, a bill to require background checks for all gun buyers and a school safety proposal will be taken up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Whatever gets through that panel could be considered by the full Senate in early April.
Though there’s little hope for an assault weapons ban, the prospects for universal background checks, while far from certain, are better. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association — which opposes background checks — is considered a pivotal figure on that specific piece of legislation. He has not signaled his support, though advocates remain hopeful.
This push for gun control legislation stems, of course, from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in mid-December. Though universal background checks for gun buyers and stiffer penalties for illegal purchases won’t eliminate gun violence — or even massacres — they can reduce the likelihood of such tragedies, and they can do so without infringing on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.