In the wake of the Colorado catastrophe, in which a maniac shooter killed at least a dozen people in a theater showing the latest Batman movie, everyone seems to be calling for “common-sense” gun laws. Unfortunately it's hard to tell whose sense is common enough these days.
The polls are often too polarized to be of much help. The venerable Gallup Poll, for example, finds that while overall violent crimes declined nationwide beginning in the mid-1990s, the percentage of Americans who favor “more strict” laws governing firearms sales actually fell between 1990 and 2010 — from 78 percent to only 44 percent.
But does that mean Americans don't want any more gun-control laws or that they haven't heard of any that they think will work? Phrases like “gun bans,” “gun control” and “stricter laws” don't tell us very much unless we also say what those stricter laws would do.
I, for one, favor “common-sense” gun laws, as President Barack Obama and activists like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence say, even though this president's record on gun control is a bit blurry on whose common sense he's talking about.
I suspect most people are in the wobbly middle on this issue. We're looking for answers that make sense — somewhere between the extremes of an all-out ban and an all-out distribution of concealed-carry permits to any bozo who can put an “X” on the paper.
For starters, we could improve background checks before gun purchases. James Holmes, the Colorado shooting suspect, was not prevented by his background check in that state from purchasing a firearm, but he might well have been stopped in New York, where gun permits require interviews and references, who also are interviewed.
Police might have learned, as reporters quickly did, that suspect Holmes had been barred from a local gun club for what the owner described as “bizarre” behavior.
Second, we could reinstate limits on high-capacity magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. Police say Holmes had a 100-round barrel magazine on his AR-15 assault rifle. Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, have introduced bills to reinstate a law that expired in 2004 to ban such high-capacity magazines.