Today in my e-mail inbox was a message from Howard Dean via his Democracy For America organization that, like many of OpEd News readers, I support. The title, however, drew my attention due to the massive disinformation circulating through the media on guns in the wake of the Tucson shooting and the increasing fervor among the left for more gun controls. Like many Democrats and liberals, I am a gun owner, NRA member and know that this is not, never was and never SHOULD be a partisan issue. But I do join with anyone who wants to keep guns out of the wrong hands and am generally in favor of those proposals which will actually have an impact on violent crime without hampering the law-abiding from exercising their legal 2nd Amendment rights.
This is why I was hopeful and optimistic when Dr. Dean's message began with: "We can both protect our second amendment rights and keep our communities safe from illegal gun sales." After a brief description of his standing with the NRA (an "A rating" as governor of Vermont), he went on to say: "But I don't think any Vermonter or gun owners anywhere can argue against common sense changes to our background check system to make our communities safer and more secure. And common sense changes are exactly what Mayors Against Illegal Guns is proposing that President Obama and Congress take action on right now."
This set-off alarm bell #1: Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This self-described coalition of mayors, brought together by notoriously gun-hostile New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, claims that its mission is to halt illegal gun trafficking, yet the history of the group paints a more sinister picture. According to the NRA-ILA website (http://www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?id=254&issue=011), the group "has lobbied Congress"[to regulate] gun shows out of existence, and for repealing the Tiahrt Amendment that protects the privacy rights of law-abiding gun owners and limits disclosure of sensitive firearm trace data to protect law enforcement personnel and protect lawful gun manufacturers from bogus lawsuits." This last point is important, because Bloomberg's group has been hit with several lawsuits by legitimate gun dealers (http://www.nysun.com/new-york/gun-dealer-hits-bloomberg-on-sting-operation/38864/) and was itself investigated by the BATFE because they had launched an illegal sting operation using private investigators that actually obstructed an ongoing, legitimate investigation by federal authorities! (http://www.saf.org/viewoe.asp?id=213) Many mayors dropped out of Bloomberg's coalition because of what has been described as its "rogue activities."
Still, Dr. Dean and many honest people who were upset by the Tucson shooting can't be blamed for taking the group at face value. Who doesn't want to stop crimes with guns? So I was willing to provisionally overlook mention of this group. Reading on, Dr. Dean writes: " They have a two-part goal. First, we already have laws that make it illegal for guns to be sold to felons, drug abusers or the mentally ill. The problem is that states and federal agencies are not required to make sure these prohibited purchasers are included in the background check database. That must change."
Again, I agree. In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, the NRA worked with Congress to craft legislation that would provide funding to states so that they could hire the manpower necessary to include mental health records - a mountain of data - into the NICS database of prohibited persons. Legitimate gun dealers must get approval through NICS, the National Instant Check System, before allowing a sale to proceed, but only recently were mental health records approved to be included, catching many states unprepared to handle the massive data entry task, which was an unfunded mandate until the "NICS Improvement Bill" was enacted. Even with funding, some states have lethargically refused to act, and now Dr. Dean is proposing a requirement that they do so. Again, this is something that everyone, including the NRA, can agree on. The real problem comes with the next sentence:
"Second, it's time to stop the sales of guns without a background check at all. Right now, anyone can go to a gun show and purchase as many guns as they want no questions asked, no background check, nothing. It's common sense to fix these two loopholes and make America safer from illegal gun sales."
What Dr. Dean is talking about here is the so-called "gun show loophole." It is a myth. I challenge readers to fact check me on this: all FFLs (federally licensed gun dealers) must conduct the SAME BACKGROUND CHECKS on all gun sales at gun shows just as they do in their brick-and-mortar stores!
In reality, what Bloomberg and his mayors are targeting is PRIVATE SALES, and these have little to do with gun shows.
For instance, if you have a legally owned firearm, or even a whole collection that you'd like to sell, you have many options. You can run an ad in the paper, list them online, or go to a gun show. At the gun show, you might offer them to various dealers to try and get the best deal you can. Since gun shows bring out buyers as well, you might also bump into a private buyer who is interested in your gun or guns. THIS is their claimed point of contention!
Their solution? Shut down gun shows! Now, if gun shows were a huge problem, it might be a small sacrifice in order to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Yet the most recent federal study shows that, of all guns involved in a crime, only 0.7 percent were purchased at a gun show. (Caroline Wolf Harlow, Firearm Use by Offenders 6 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Nov. 2001)
This fact would seem to expose an underlying political goal: to chip away at legal gun commerce by prohibiting one avenue of legal gun sales.
Even if this strategy fails to shut down the shows, they know that it will make guns more expensive overall, and therefore harder for average working people to afford the means to self-defense, by adding a FEE. Forcing all private sales to go through FFL dealers adds to the cost because they are private businesses and, as such, will want to earn a profit. Running NICS checks for free would be bad business.
Unlike other media pundits, bloggers and politicians who complain and complain and offer no solutions, I write this article bearing one!
As I see it, if we really want to address the problem -- criminals and prohibited persons from getting guns from legal sources -- then we do what works for the professionals: provide private gun sellers with a special one-time access to the NICS database. This will allow anyone selling a privately held firearm to be better assured that the sale isn't going to a "bad guy." Best of all, it covers gun sales everywhere, which means it will go far beyond the confines of gun shows to encompass ALL private sales, having a much broader impact on REAL crime without impacting the rights of law abiding firearms users.
Each side of the political debate seems intent on setting up the gun issue as "us vs. them" when in reality we all share a common enemy: violent crime. We can't win the war against it alone. We must bring together all sides who are earnest in doing something positive, NRA and "million moms" alike. I urge readers to contact their Senators and Representatives and insist that Congress allow private sellers a special per-sale access to NICS and stop playing politics with innocent lives. The longer we banter about mythical loopholes and delay action, the more tragedy we'll endure. I've had enough. How about you?