Firearms: Limited Gun Law

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For the first time since Robert Kennedy's assassination, the surviving Kennedy brother returned to his desk in the back row of the Senate. Teddy Kennedy came back at a poignant and appropriate moment. After the gunshot killings of Bobby and Martin Luther King, the Johnson Administration drew up gun-control legislation that went considerably beyond an earlier law that forbade the mail-order sale of revolvers and automatics. Chin cradled in hand, Ted Kennedy last week watched the Senate debate that measure.

The bill passed by an overwhelming 70 to 17. Aimed chiefly at helping the states enforce their own firearms-control laws by severely restricting the mailorder traffic in rifles, shotguns and ammunition, the law would make it impossible to order long guns—as did Lee Harvey Oswald—from an out-of-state gun mail-order house. Even within his own state, the buyer who orders a gun by mail will have to wait at least one week before the dealer ships the weapon. Similarly, when the gun buyer goes to an adjoining state to purchase a gun over the counter, he must wait a week before it will be handed to him.

In both cases, the one-week waiting time is intended to give state authorities the opportunity to check whether the purchaser has, in fact, obtained a license from his local community to own the weapon that he has ordered. In all cases, the bill prohibits the sale of long guns and ammunition to those under 18. Violators would face a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and ten years in jail.

The Senate bill will now go to conference to resolve minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation. The final bill should be ready for the President's signature by next month. Even so, many advocates of tighter gun laws are disappointed that the present bill omits the two principles that Bobby Kennedy had sought: 1) that every firearm in the U.S. be registered, and 2) that every gun owner be required to seek a federal license. It may take another act of horror to push really effective gun curbs through Congress.