Federal authorities aren't going to give gun-control advocates all they believe is necessary in the wake of the horrifying killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut late last year.
Far from it. But Congress can take sensible steps to curb the flow of guns to those who clearly shouldn't have them. One of the best ways to do that is to considerably ramp up background checks, with a particular focus on identifying those with mental illnesses.
Studies have shown there is wide disparity among states regarding how they submit mental-health records to the federal background database - if they submit them at all.
It's absurd that such practices are allowed to continue. In general, many Western states have lax standards, with some not even sharing the records with the federal government out of privacy concerns. Yet federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by those deemed mentally ill by a court, or if they have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
How can federal officials possibly enforce this law if states aren't required to submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System? Obviously, they can't. The inconsistency makes no sense.
Among those pushing for changes is Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Giffords will be the commencement speaker at Bard College in May.) Kelly says Jared Loughner, the man accused of severely wounding his wife, would not have been able to purchase the guns he wielded if a background check had exposed his mental problems.
It shouldn't take another tragedy before federal authorities tighten the restrictions.
After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, 18 states enacted laws to require mental-health records to go to NICS, the Journal's Washington Bureau recently noted. Four other states enacted laws to permit the sharing of mental-health records.
As a result, these states - including New York - have greatly increased the number of records submitted to the national background check. The country needs a uniform standard, and that includes for waiting periods to buy a gun.
No one policy is going to eradicate gun deaths, but the country is making it far too easy for those with mental illnesses to obtain firearms. The county can, and must, do better.