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Editorial: Gun Purchases

Follow N.J.'s lead

Even though New Jersey officials long ago put in place the nation's second-toughest firearms restrictions, many are prepared, with Gov. Corzine's backing, to kick it up a notch by enacting a monthly limit on handgun buyers.

As soon as next month, the state Senate could vote on a measure approved by the state Assembly that would impose a one-handgun-per-month limit. At the same time, the Assembly's calendar contains another smart gun-safety measure that would ban .50-caliber sniper rifles capable of targeting a plane.

By pushing for a handgun limit, Trenton lawmakers would be making a powerful statement: In effect, the struggle to keep communities safe from gun violence requires going the extra mile, and then some.

That effort deserves the full support of lawmakers from South Jersey, including Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester). But Sweeney is not yet on board with the proposal, and seems to be quoting from the NRA's bullet points about the need to enforce existing gun regulations more fully.

Anyone who has tried to purchase a handgun in the state can imagine how tough it must be to skirt the regs. Handgun buyers have to go through a number of checks and approvals. But it's still a fact that some legal gun buyers are making purchases and then reselling those weapons to criminals.

Even though most guns recovered after crimes in cities like Camden, Newark and Jersey City were originally purchased legally out of state, nearly a third of Jersey criminals' guns are estimated to have been first sold in-state.

That means there's good reason to clamp down on so-called "straw" buyers, who legally acquire weapons that are then trafficked to criminals. Limiting purchases by these rogue gun buyers will save lives if even a single weapon is kept out of a criminal's hands.

New Jersey's example ought not be lost on lawmakers in Harrisburg, where policymakers have been reluctant to buck the National Rifle Association's vise-like grip on gun laws in Pennsylvania.

In stark contrast to New Jersey, the rules for handgun purchases in the Keystone State are shockingly lax. As such, handgun trafficking is more widespread, since it's so much easier for straw buyers to acquire weapons. That's why many of Philadelphia's toughest neighborhood streets are awash in illegal handguns.

Gov. Rendell has favored a one-handgun-per-month law since his days as Philadelphia mayor. As governor, he has lobbied passionately for the General Assembly to approve this gun-safety measure. Given the grim toll of city police officers shot with illegal handguns, it's unconscionable for lawmakers to continue to carry water for the NRA.

Since so many illegal handguns come from out of state, New Jersey's gun-trafficking problem could well be reduced if neighboring states limited handgun purchases. But Trenton officials need to take steps within their control to stem gun violence, and then hope that other enlightened leaders follow suit.