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Editorial: Make it harder for criminals to get guns

Charles Golden  alleged member Killing Crew who is awaiting sentencing federal drug charges.

Charles Golden, alleged member of the Killing Crew who is awaiting sentencing on federal drug charges.

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Updated: May 18, 2013 6:33AM

The purchase of two guns by the murderous Far South Side Killing Crew in 2006 shows why stronger federal laws are needed to keep guns out of criminals’ hands.

As detailed by reporter Frank Main in Sunday’s Sun-Times, reputed crew member Charles Golden called a friend in Indiana to get the guns as part of a plot to shoot another gang member. In a sensible world, it would have been difficult for known criminals to buy guns. But it wasn’t.

The friend, who had a criminal record, could not pass a background check. So the friend approached someone with a clean record, and that person bought the guns from a pawn shop in Indiana, where only a driver’s license is needed to purchase a firearm. The friend with the criminal record then brought the guns to Golden’s Chicago home.

It could hardly have been easier. That’s why opponents of gun violence are calling for two important reforms: universal background checks and a crackdown on “straw purchases,” or buying guns for people not legally permitted to purchase firearms on their own. Both are part of U.S. Senate legislation expected to be voted on later this week, although Republican opposition is growing.

Here’s how those reforms would have helped. With a universal background check in place, the person with the clean record could not have legally sold the gun to the friend with the criminal record, because the friend would have failed the background check. As it stands now, background checks aren’t required for private transactions.

Also, if the person with the clean record bought it with the intent of selling it to a prohibited purchaser, the penalty would rise to up to 25 years in prison. Now, straw purchases often are treated on the federal level as minor transgressions, which doesn’t provide much of a deterrent.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin both say the federal legislation would significantly reduce the number of guns in the hands of criminals.

The current system allows Indiana to be a crime gun exporter, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In fact, Golden boasted to police, “Guns are really easy to get in Indiana.”

We must make it much more difficult for criminals to buy guns.

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