The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Staring down the NRA

 

OUR OPINION: Universal background checks for gun buyers a must

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The 30-year-old former business major in Apartment 308 in Tower 1 had pulled the fire alarm to force the building’s 500 students to the outside. But something happened to foil James Seevakumaran’s plans for a massacre at the University of Central Florida last week.

Credit Seevakumaran’s roommate, Arabo “B.K.” Babakhani.

When Seevakumaran pointed a tactical rifle at him, Mr. Babakhani, 24, slammed and locked the bedroom door and hid behind furniture while dialing 911. When police arrived prepared for mayhem they found Seevakumaran had used his weapon on himself and died. They also found four makeshift explosives in his backpack, an assault rifle, a handgun, high-capacity ammunition drums and hundreds of bullets. Plus, two 22-round magazines were waiting for the killer in the mailroom.

The carnage averted at UCF in Orlando could happen anywhere. It already has at other university towns, at movie theaters and on military bases.

And yet, after the carnage in December that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the shootings of teenagers in Overtown and Liberty City, the drive-by killing of a mother talking with a friend outside her home in Liberty City — after all of that and so much more from coast to coast — Congress still seems unable to ban assault weapons.

These are not quick fixes. They must be part of a comprehensive plan that has to include more funding for mental health services and better security at our schools.

Banning weapons won’t ensure that criminals or the mentally ill don’t get high-capacity semiautomatics or any kind of handgun, for that matter, illegally. But at least it won’t be as easy. No one should be able to buy a weapon on the Internet or at a gun show without the seller checking the buyer for a criminal record or whether that person was institutionalized for emotional problems.

The National Rifle Association holds the Second Amendment sacrosanct — and the lawmakers who fear the NRA’s political clout aren’t budging. Yet the vast majority of Americans — and polls show a majority of NRA members, too — want universal background checks. And the courts have long upheld that the Second Amendment (like virtually all other constitutional rights) has common-sense limits.

For instance, Americans cannot buy machine guns — except for a small number of people holding special licenses. You don’t own a machine gun for protection. You don’t use it to shoot duck or deer for dinner. It’s a war weapon — as are many of the assault-style rifles that can be rigged to shoot multiple rounds virtually nonstop.

Reinstating the ban on assault-style weapons, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been pushing for, would also make it more difficult for gangs to get their hands on rapid-fire weapons. Yet the proposed ban on such weapons and high-capacity magazines are now dead on arrival. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided they’re too controversial.

Instead, Senate legislation would expand background checks to close the loopholes that now allow sales on the Internet and at gun shows without the checks. And it would give police more tools to track gun traffickers and stolen weapons. At the very least a universal background check of all buyers should be mandatory.

Let there be no doubt. The next massacre — like the one averted at UCF — will happen because a fearful Congress was more beholden to the NRA than to the citizens who elected them.

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