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Our View: Close 'gun show loophole' now

7:35 PM, Mar. 22, 2013  |  Comments
A man holds a 5.56 mm AR-15 during January's Rocky Mountain Gun Show in Sandy, Utah.
A man holds a 5.56 mm AR-15 during January's Rocky Mountain Gun Show in Sandy, Utah.
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A new poll released Tuesday by Marquette University Law School showed a supermajority of Wisconsin residents are in favor of a system that requires background checks for private gun sales. This is a policy whose time has come. It's time for our legislators to act on it.

The discussion about an overhaul of gun control policies has taken on an emotional resonance since the school shooting at Newtown, Conn., and it has attracted passionate advocates on both sides of the highly charged issue.

Not all gun control policies are created equal. In a January editorial, the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board expressed skepticism about the efficacy of renewing the federal assault weapons ban, based on a definition of "assault weapon" that we called "slippery and imprecise."

But requiring universal background checks - closing what is known as the "gun show loophole" - is good policy. And the MU Law School showing that 81 percent of Wisconsinites support the policy proves that it's also politically popular.

There are several flavors of argument against new rules on background checks. Here are several of them, and our reasons for finding them unpersuasive:

? "More background checks means more bureaucracy." Gun stores and licensed dealers follow background-check laws now and do good business. It's likely that this regulation would lead to fewer person-to-person exchanges and more exchanges through licensed dealers. That seems like a tiny cost to pay if the policy makes us safer.

? "Bad guys get their guns on the black market." As the system exists now, they barely need to bother with black markets. To be sure, this policy won't address all the ways illegal guns travel. The right response is to have sensible legal regulations and then have law enforcement crack down on illegal sales.

? "This will lead to other, future policies that might be bad." This objection clearly has some emotional purchase for some - that's why it's used by advocates like the National Rifle Association, which raises the specter of a "gun registry" or other remote and wildly unlikely policies. But this is a way of avoiding a discussion of the merits of this proposal. On its own merits, universal background checks make sense.

In a January town hall meeting in Wausau where gun rights was the most-discussed issue, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, expressed strong opposition to an assault weapons ban and to magazine-size limits. But he said changes to the system of background checks was an area he would be willing to consider.

When 80 percent of the public favors it and elected leaders who are strong gun-rights advocates are open to it, we are approaching a broad consensus on this issue. It's time for legislators to act.

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