Your elected leaders are failing you if they talk about airplanes but not this glaring danger.
It is hypocritical for lawmakers to decry steps not taken to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding NWA Flight 253 on Christmas Day when they willfully ignore other glaring holes in Americans' security.
A security risk big enough to accommodate a jumbo jet full of terrorists is the failure, both in federal and most state laws, to mandate background checks at gun shows when the seller is not a federally licensed firearms dealer. Indeed, private sellers may set up shop at most American gun shows (of which there are thousands each year) and sell any kind of high-powered weapon, in any quantity, with no check required to see if the buyer is in a prohibited category.
Any would-be terrorist inside this country knows that lax U.S. gun laws make acquiring lethal and sophisticated firepower astonishingly easy. In fact, as the New York Times reported in 2005, dozens of people on the terrorist watch list were found to have purchased guns at American gun shows.
The specious claim by the National Rifle Association that background checks at these venues need not be required because only law-abiding gun owners frequent American gun shows is belied by wares clearly marketed to lawbreakers. Among other choice offerings are lock-picking tools and conversion kits for making semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic machine guns.
Lawmakers' reluctance to close the gun show loophole is the more remarkable for its disconnect with public opinion. Gun owners and non-gun-owners alike want greater safety and security for their families. A recent survey of NRA members showed that, in contrast to the views wrongly attributed to them by their leadership, fully 69 percent would like to see background checks required at gun shows. The same percentage opposes the policies adopted by Congress (in a pandering response to pressure from the gun lobby) that limit the sharing of federal gun trace information with state and local law enforcement groups.
If members of Congress and state lawmakers are serious about increasing the safety of Americans, then they should "connect the dots" here at home, and not just abroad. They must close the gun show loophole by requiring background checks on all gun show purchases, by adding terror suspects to the category of prohibited buyers, by reversing their astounding decision to allow guns in luggage on Amtrak (at least until adequate screening procedures are put in place), and by providing for longer retention and greater transparency of gun purchase records to allow for more-efficient sharing of such information among state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Failure to adopt these measures makes a mockery of calls for accountability and reveals those who make them to be merely posturing. Voters should hold lawmakers' feet to the fire if they fail to adopt common-sense measures to make all of us safer.
Mary Lewis Grow, of Northfield, is a board member of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota.