As we've noted before, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is the right person to be at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the nation's gun control laws.
"I'm a gun guy," Thompson said during a recent meeting with The Press Democrat Editorial Board. "I'm not going to give my guns up, and I don't expect anybody else to have to do that."
As he has noted at recent public hearings and media interviews, he believes that there's plenty of room for both a strong Second Amendment right to own guns as well as sound restrictions on the types of weapons in circulation and how they can be acquired.
Thompson, chairman of a congressional task force on gun violence, notes that there were 600,000 guns sold in California alone in 2011, in a state that has among the strongest gun control laws in the nation. He uses that figure to underscore his assertion that the government is not coming to confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens.
Nevertheless, the renewed effort for gun legislation — in the wake of the monstrous mass slaying of children in Newtown, Conn., 2? months ago — is and should be focused on keeping weapons out of the hands of those most at risk.
"If we can stop someone from getting a gun who shouldn't have a gun, that's real progress," Thompson said.
Toward that end, Thompson and his committee are recommending a number of legislative changes including measures that would strengthen rules on background checks, would require that the national background check database be kept up to date and would crack down on illegal straw-purchases. These concern guns sales made by people with no criminal history who then hand over the guns to someone who is prohibited from buying weapons.
In addition, last week, Thompson and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, introduced legislation that seeks to remove guns from convicted criminals and those considered to be dangerously mentally ill. The bill calls for a grant program to help states launch systems such as one that has existed in California since 2001 and has successfully seized 10,000 guns from individuals who are prohibited from having them.
The program is meant for those cases where an individual legally bought a gun but was later determined, by the result of a criminal conviction or being deemed to be mentally ill to the point of posing a safety risk, to be prohibited by law from possessing firearms.
"This bill does nothing to limit a law-abiding citizen's Second Amendment rights," said Thompson in a statement in introducing the bill, HR 848. "It simply gives states an incentive to develop successful programs that will keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn't have them."
The wait for a legislative response to the massacre at Newtown has now entered its third month. In addition to being the right person, Thompson is taking the right approach, in focusing on keeping guns out of unstable hands. One hopes this is an approach that even the National Rifle Association can get behind.