Mind you, Chief Johnson is hardly soft on crime, and he doesn't represent a bleeding-heart liberal county. He spoke on behalf of a national coalition of law-enforcement professionals who know better than anyone the deadly price the proliferation of guns in our society exacts on his organization's members and everyone else. And he was absolutely clear that background checks work: Had the requirement been in place, he suggested, both the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the shooting of seven women last year in Brookfield, Wis., might have been prevented. In both cases the shooters were able to buy firearms they otherwise would have been prohibited from owning due to prior histories of mental instability or domestic violence.
Mr. Johnson was equally emphatic in urging the committee to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons with large-capacity magazines, which he described as firearms designed for troops on the battlefield that "are not used in hunting, do not belong in our homes and wreak havoc in our communities." Since Congress allowed the ban on assault rifles to lapse in 2004, Mr. Johnson said, he and his colleagues have seen an "explosion" in the percentage of crimes committed with such weapons. "It is common to find many shell casings at crime scenes these days, as victims are being riddled with multiple gunshots," he testified.
As if to underscore those concerns, earlier in the day the husband of former Arizona congresswoman
That tragedy occurred as the nation was still reeling from reports of two more high-profile shootings the day before, one of which claimed the life of a 15-year-old Chicago girl who had performed at
When respected voices like Chief Johnson speak out on the need to address the rising epidemic of gun violence, Congress ought to listen. State-level laws can help — indeed, legislators in
The modest restrictions proposed by Chief Johnson and his colleagues won't end gun violence altogether, but neither do they threaten the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners who use firearms responsibly for hunting or to protect their families. Society inevitably pays dearly, however, when guns fall into the wrong hands, and unfortunately that seems to be happening more frequently than ever these days. Strengthening the protections against senseless gun violence shouldn't be a partisan issue but rather something thoughtful men and women of both parties can see the need for and act on accordingly. Congress hasn't been famous for doing much of that lately, but enacting common sense gun legislation represents an opportunity it shouldn't pass up.