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Editorial: Pared-down gun deal hits No. 1 target

Guns confiscated by Chicago Police.  |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Guns confiscated by Chicago Police. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 12, 2013 1:55PM

Wednesday’s U.S. Senate compromise on gun legislation omits many of the desperately needed changes called for after the Newtown school massacre, but it does include the single most important reform.

Especially for big cities like Chicago.

The bipartisan deal crafted by senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) would close the biggest loophole through which firearms flow to criminals. Congress should embrace it and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Right now, an estimated 40 percent of gun sales in the United States fail to include background checks because they are transacted on the Internet, at gun shows and other places that don’t involve a licensed gun dealer.

That’s an outrage, and contributes mightily to the carnage on our streets. More than 40 percent of criminals convicted of homicide have a previous felony arrest. With a felony on their record, they no longer can legally buy guns from a licensed dealer. In fact, background checks have prevented an estimated 1.8 million sales to felons and other prohibited purchasers. But those same people can turn around and buy guns privately with no questions asked.

Manchin and Toomey’s compromise would close much of that loophole, making it harder for a felon or mentally ill person to buy a gun. The legislation also would impose penalties on states that do not add records of felons and the mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In addition, the measure would protect current record-keeping practices, which gun advocates — who fear the creation of a national registry listing every gun owner — had sought to weaken.

Is the deal perfect? No. The legislation won’t cover unadvertised transactions between individuals, a loophole that might grow larger as other channels are blocked off. And as it stands, this measure is no shoo-in. In the Senate, 13 Republicans have vowed to filibuster the legislation, although it appeared Wednesday they don’t have to votes to do so. Even if the bill passes the Senate, its prospects are uncertain in the House.

Just as Newtown reawakened the nation to the horrors of gun violence, we in Chicago can’t forget the tragic story of Hadiya Pendleton, who in January was shot in the back while standing with friends in a South Side park only a week after performing at Obama’s second inauguration. On Wednesday, Michelle Obama — visiting a Chicago school where 29 current or former students have been shot in the past year — evoked the memory of Hadiya. So did Sen. Mark Kirk in Washington, as he voiced support for the deal.

“I’m supportive of it because I think we will have fewer tragedies like the one we saw with Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old killed in random drug gang violence,” Kirk said.

The gun debate is not limited to Washington, of course. Here in Illinois, lawmakers have been forced by a federal court to craft legislation by early June that permits the concealed carrying of loaded guns.

On Thursday, opponents of gun violence plan to descend on Springfield, calling for the concealed-carry legislation to include provisions allowing local governments the option of refusing to issue permits in some cases; requiring applicants to show they have a need to carry a gun; implementing universal background checks; requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns; and requiring guns to be registered, just as cars are.

All reasonable limits on concealed carry.

Congress hasn’t allowed a serious debate on gun control in almost two decades. Let’s have it now — and pass this law.

And let there be no cowardly hiding behind a filibuster.

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