Truth, willingness to talk can free us from gun violence

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Three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle. | AP file photo/Rich Pedroncelli

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After the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history and continued carnage on Chicago streets, it’s time to have an honest discussion about gun violence. Too many people are dying.

But even as the horror was sinking in about the Orlando shootings, which left at least 49 people dead, here’s what the Illinois State Rifle Association said in an “urgent alert” email Monday about an Illinois bill designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.


That’s not honest discussion. Far from it.

The bill in question is a package of reforms that would make it harder for “straw purchasers” to buy guns and resell them to criminals. A straw purchaser buys guns for people who are legally banned from owning firearms. The bill would require all gun dealers be licensed by the state, background checks for owners and employees, inspections, and training in background checks, preventing straw purchases, and proper gun storage to prevent thefts.


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People convicted of gun crimes cannot legally buy guns. But straw purchasers buy guns for them anyway, keeping the cycle of violence going. Most gun dealers are careful not to sell to obvious straw purchasers. But others do, in large numbers. Just three gun dealers sold nearly 17 percent of the guns used in Chicago crimes from 2009 to 2014. That’s in a state that has more than 2,400 gun dealers.

Straw purchasing is just one of the legal loopholes that need to be closed to reduce gun violence, but it’s a big one. From Friday evening to Monday night, 10 people were killed and 58 were wounded in Chicago shootings. Many of the guns used in those shootings surely came through straw purchasers at some point. Stanching such illegal trafficking of firearms would save lives and wouldn’t have much effect on legal gun owners.

So how does the ISRA justify saying the bill would effectively eliminate the right to keep and bear arms? Or that the people behind it are “gun grabbers”?

ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson explains it this way: The new licenses would cost so much that the cost of firearms would soar beyond the ability of state residents to buy them.

That’s simply not correct. The license fee would be set only high enough to recover the cost of running the program. The actual cost of a license hasn’t been calculated, but it clearly won’t be so high that no one can afford to buy a gun. State licenses are required for everything from fishing to cosmetology, and they don’t keep people from fishing or having their hair done.

The New York Times reported Tuesday the United States has the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year — far and away more than in any other advanced country. Clearly, there’s much we can do to bring down that unconscionable number.

But we can’t do it if we’re not honest about what the problems and proposed solutions are.

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