Support the Federal Gun Check Act, and Help Save Lives in the Process


 Clearly, there are public-policy issues in which intelligent people of goodwill will have strong differences of opinion. For instance, reasonable people can understandably disagree regarding the best way to improve the delivery of health care in our nation. But the U.S. Senate is now facing a vote on gun control, an issue that's hard to explain why total unanimity fails to exist.

Pennsylvania has long required that anyone purchasing a handgun — even at a gun show — must go through a quick and simple criminal background check. You might ask why anyone would object to such a procedure.

But most states, including our immediate neighbors in Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia, don't seem to believe that such a requirement is needed. Under the terms of the federal Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, individuals "not engaged in the business" of dealing firearms or who only make "occasional" sales within their state of residence are under no requirement to conduct background checks on purchasers or maintain records of sale.

In the simplest terms, this means that a convicted felon can buy a firearm at a gun show just across the state line, drive into Pennsylvania, use the gun in a crime, and there would be no way to trace the weapon — no paper trail.

Polls indicate that almost 80 percent of Americans would favor a law that required private gun sales to be subject to the same background check requirements as sales by licensed dealers. Even two-thirds of people who personally own a gun would favor such a law. Legislation is currently before the U.S. Congress that would close this loophole.

Mayors across Pennsylvania, working with CeaseFire PA, have been urging Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey to support S.843, the Gun Show Background Check Act. Similar attempts in the past have been beaten back by lobbyists for the gun industry and the NRA. But now, for the first time, Pennsylvania's faith leaders are also raising their voices on behalf of gun sanity.

A letter endorsed by more than 360 rabbis, Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests and Muslim imams — in an effort coordinated by Pennsylvania's Faith Leaders Against Illegal Guns — has been sent to our two senators, calling upon them to support the proposed federal legislation, making it more difficult for people who cannot purchase a gun from a licensed gun dealer to get one through the "back door" of an unlicensed part time dealer at a gun show.

More than 1,000 of our fellow Pennsylvanians lose their lives to gun violence each year. Simply by passing S.843, men, women and children whose lives might be at risk next year will live.

Many senators have indicated their intention to pass this measure, but the gun lobby is mounting a full-court press to frighten them into backing down.

We all need to join with the hundreds of Pennsylvania mayors, law-enforcement officials and religious leaders in saying that there can there be no disagreement when it comes to saving lives.

Burt Siegel, a former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the Faith-Based Coordinator for CeaseFire PA, an anti-gun-violence organization.


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