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Originally published Monday, January 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Pass rigorous gun-safety laws

Curbing gun violence has the elemental imperative of a public-health threat. President Obama and lawmakers must confront the contagion.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE Second Amendment right to own a firearm does not preclude the public’s right to expect responsible, accountable gun ownership.

President Obama is hardly racing ahead of public sentiment with his proposals for reasonable gun-safety laws. The right to bear arms is not in question, but the public is unnerved by the flood tide of weapons in our culture.

The slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Conn., the Cafe Racer shooting here in May and a bloody litany of other tragedies has raised demands for basic oversight of the lethal hardware casually available.

Start with universal background checks on all gun sales. End the loopholes for sales at gun shows or private sales via the Internet or classified ads.

Every transaction must include a background check. Congress has to make this happen, but the president can use executive orders to maximize access to criminal and mental-health information, and make it available to designated screeners.

Tighten laws to ensure seized guns are not returned by law enforcement to those who should not have them. Share criminal and relevant mental-health information across jurisdictions.

Reinstate the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, and renew a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines. The gunmen in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., massacres used 30-round and 100-round magazines.

America is awash in firearms and ammunition. No civilian has a need for armor-piercing bullets.

Protecting the public from gun violence runs deeper than the most visible atrocities. The National Network to End Domestic Violence notes that “more than three women a day, on average, are killed by an intimate partner, and guns play a large role in the level of lethality.”

Lawmakers at all levels need to consider the elements of responsible gun ownership, such as standards for gun locks and gun storage. Car owners are required to have liability insurance — how about gun owners?

The public safety — indeed, the public health — element of curbing gun violence is obvious. Washington residents cannot clear a store’s shelves of cold medicine because of efforts to fight the meth epidemic. But it is legal to buy dozens of military-style weapons without question at a gun show.

Congress has to be an active, responsible player in resolving America’s bloody gun epidemic. The Senate has not confirmed a new head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives since 2006. Obama’s latest nominee, the promotion of the agency’s fifth acting director, is warming up as another stall tactic.

Public expectations for rational, coherent rules for gun sales and ownership are not radical threats to the Second Amendment. Indeed, the First Amendment offers no protection for all speech.

Innocent people are literally dying for lack of responsible gun-safety laws in a country that can do much more to protect its citizens, while respecting the right to own firearms.

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