Hopkins gun panel calls for universal background checks

Anyone seeking to purchase a gun — even those buying weapons at a show or through a private dealer — should be required to pass a background check through a national database, according to recommendations drafted by a panel of violence reduction experts convened by the Johns Hopkins University.

"It is really indefensible that we have a system where someone is able to obtain a firearm with no background check or record-keeping," said Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The panel, which announced its recommendations Tuesday at the close of a two-day summit, also said that people convicted of violent misdemeanors, multiple drug or alcohol offenses or drug-trafficking, or those who commit violent crimes as juveniles, should be barred from buying guns for 10 or more years.

Other recommendations include:

•Banning the sale of assault weapons through a carefully worded law that would eliminate the loopholes in a similar ban that expired in 2004;

•Prohibiting the sale and possession of gun magazines containing more than 10 bullets;

•Requiring all gun sales to be facilitated by a federally licensed gun dealer;

•Making 21 the minimum age to buy or possess a handgun;

•Permanently banning convicted gang members and drug dealers from buying guns;

•Restricting people who are seriously mentally ill and believed to be dangerous from buying guns;

•Naming a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and increasing the bureau's power to crack down on dealers violating laws;

•Increasing the funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Justice to research gun violence;

•Requiring the surgeon general to produce regular reports on gun violence.

Hopkins officials hastily organized the summit after a 20-year-old armed with an assault weapon burst into a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month, fatally shooting 20 children and six teachers and administrators.

"Given the drastically high rates of gun violence in the United States, starkly illustrated by numerous mass shootings in movie theaters, shopping malls, houses of worship, and now, an elementary school, but also experienced on a daily basis in neighborhoods across our country, we knew at Johns Hopkins that we could not let this moment pass," said Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels.

"We wanted to do all that we could to bring together national and global experts, advocates and leaders on gun violence and policy to present their research, analysis and perspectives," he said.

Research presented at the summit will be published within two weeks and distributed to every member of Congress, Daniels said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley was one of the first speakers at the summit Monday and used the platform to sketch out his ambitious plans to curb gun violence in the state, including requiring people to submit to fingerprinting before buying guns.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and a Hopkins alumnus, also laid out his seven-point plan to curtail gun deaths.

President Barack Obama is slated to propose his gun control measures, which he has made a top priority of his second term, on Wednesday morning.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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