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Judy Masterson: Better background checks needed for gun ownership

Thomas Delany Jr. Staff Photographer.
Judy Mastersresporter for The News Sun.

Thomas Delany Jr. Staff Photographer. Judy Masterson, resporter for The News Sun. 7/12/06

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Updated: February 16, 2011 2:17AM

I had all but forgotten about the Valentine’s Day shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Three years to the day that five people were shot to death and 18 wounded in a murder/suicide, I sat at my dining room table, typing the FAFSA school code for NIU, a preliminary choice for the next kid off to college.

Steve Kazmierczak, the 27-year-old former NIU graduate student who shot up a geology lecture hall, had been treated for mental illness since high school. But it’s not mental illness that scares me. It’s how easily people can buy weapons in this country and how easily they can keep them at the ready, even when they’ve been found to be unstable, even after a criminal conviction. Beat up your wife? Just don’t mention that Glock you keep in the dresser drawer. Threaten your neighbor? You wouldn’t dream of telling the police at your door about that handgun you bought at a gun show years ago. Been hospitalized for treatment of borderline schizophrenia? Sssssh. Just forget to mention it on your application for a gun permit.

That’s what Kazmierczak did. He legally purchased two weapons at a Champaign gun shop days before he used them. He also bought magazines and a holster online.

Illinois and the rest of the country need a better system to thoroughly check and share backgrounds on people who want to buy weapons and a way to get them back from people who, though they may have acquired them legally, pose a danger by possessing them.

In Illinois, bills that would restrict gun ownership are percolating through the House. Bill 1296 would require background checks for all private transactions. It would also stipulate that all handgun sales take place at a federally licensed business, with the exception of gun show sales and transfers between family members.

Gun rights proponents argue that the bill is tantamount to a “giant gun registry” that would be “used against citizens” — meaning gunowners’ privacy might be compromised.

That’s laughable in light of mass shootings so prevalent, America coined a new category, as in “school shootings.”

A giant, well-oiled, constantly updated registry is exactly what we need.

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