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Editorial: Why we don’t give up on gun law fixes

Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV photo.  | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV photo. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:02AM

A lawsuit filed this week on behalf of a slain Chicago Police officer cuts to the heart of the gun reforms most needed in America: universal background checks and a crackdown on “straw purchasers,” or people with clean records who buy firearms for people who can’t.

In a tragedy that shocked the city, Thomas E. Wortham IV was murdered outside his parents’ Chatham home in 2010 by gang members trying to steal his motorcycle.

How those gang members got those guns illustrates why we need to fix our gun laws.

According to the lawsuit filed in a Mississippi federal district court by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the chain of events started at Ed’s Pawn Shop and Salvage Yard in Mississippi, where a college student named Michael Elliot bought three guns, including the .45 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun that eventually was used to kill Wortham.

Elliot was a straw purchaser who was paid $100 by gun trafficker Quawi Gates, who couldn’t legally buy the guns himself but wanted weapons to resell in Chicago. The people at Ed’s Pawn Shop could have refused the transaction because Elliot was buying multiple guns and paying cash, well-known red flags of a straw purchase.

But the store personnel sold the guns anyway, letting the weapons slip through an all-too-common loophole. According to U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data, just over 1 percent of the nation’s licensed gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes, while the vast majority of dealers sell no crime guns at all.

Wortham’s father, Thomas E. Wortham III, spoke at a press conference Wednesday. Seeing a grown man, a retired police sergeant, wiping away tears made clear that the pain from seeing loved ones cut down by guns never ends. And the shooting doesn’t stop. One man was killed and five others wounded in shootings across the city in just 24 hours, from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon.

Last week’s failure in the U.S. Senate of commonsense gun reform reminds us how hard the battle against gun violence will be.

Wednesday’s revisiting of the Wortham family tragedy reminds us why we don’t give up.

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