Gun control is an extremely polarizing issue and there appears to be no middle ground on either side of the question. The NRA opposes any and all new laws governing firearms while their most extreme opponents support outright bans on certain types and/or all firearms for civilian use.
At the age of 8 years, I inherited my father’s Red Ryder BB-gun just like the one Ralphie wanted in “A Christmas Story.” When I turned 12, I was old enough to legally go hunting in the presence of an adult in Pennsylvania and attended a voluntary hunter safety course which reinforced the safety rules laid down by my father when he gave me the BB-gun. Since then I have been an avid hunter and collector of firearms, a member of local sportsman clubs, and a member of the NRA. It’s time for both sides of the gun control arguments to give a little and adopt a common sense approach to the issue.
I have identified five areas that if acted upon would cause a dramatic decrease in crimes involving the use of a firearm:
1) Straw Purchases
Aggressive enforcement and maximum penalties for “Straw Purchases”:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) defines a straw purchaser as “a customer buying a firearm who lies to a federally licensed firearm dealership about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the gun. Purchasing a firearm for another person is illegal, regardless of that person’s status as a legal possessor. It is illegal for any person not in possession of a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to purchase a firearm with the intention of resale.”
It is not just the buyer who is guilty. In one investigation by Garen J. Wintemute of The Russell Sage Foundation found that one in five gun sellers were willing to sell guns to people explicitly asking to buy firearms on behalf of someone else. Corrupt retail gun dealers account for a higher volume of guns diverted into the illegal market than any other single trafficking channel says Wintemute.
Researchers at the Giffords Law Center estimate that nationwide, approximately 2,000 firearms dealers and pawnbrokers knowingly sell firearms illegally, fail to keep required records, transfer to prohibited persons, make false entries in record books, and conduct illegal out-of-state transfers. When retail sellers of firearms are held accountable for illegal business practices, the flow of new guns into the illicit market decreases significantly.
An illegal firearm purchase (straw purchase) is a federal offense and can bring a felony conviction sentence of ten years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 states the Firearm Industry Trade Association. Lets vigorously enforce this law and apply the maximum sentence for convictions.
2) Safe Storage
Enact “Universal Safe Storage Laws” at the federal level:
Currently there is no federal requirement for the safe storage of firearms. There is a 2005 law requiring that all handguns sold by dealers be accompanied by a secure gun safety device such as a cable lock. Safety experts recommend securing guns with a trigger or cable locking device, and/or locking guns up in a cabinet or safe that can only be accessed by the owner. They also suggest that gun owners store ammunition locked away separately from weapons.
Unsecured guns in the home pose a particular risk of suicide and approximately 60% of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. A CDC National Violent Injury Statistics System (NVISS) study of firearm suicides among youths ages 17 and under found that more than 80 percent of victims used a firearm belonging to a family member.
School shootings could be drastically reduced if all guns were safely and securely stored. The NVISS in a second study found that most guns used in school shootings also come from home and in 2018 the Washington Post’s analysis showed that safe storage could have prevented two-thirds of the 145 school shootings that have occurred since Columbine.
Guns that aren’t safely stored are also more easily stolen and used in homicides and other crimes. A 2017 Harvard and Northeastern study found gun owners who didn’t lock up firearms were more than twice as likely than those who did to have their guns stolen. A 2018 study by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that nearly half of gun owners surveyed don’t safely store their weapons.
The solution seems clear; enact a federal safe storage law and hold these irresponsible gun owners criminally liable for any crimes committed using a firearm that they own but was not properly and safely locked away.
3) Universal Background Checks
All 50 states have one form or another of background checks when purchasing a firearm. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS) allows gun dealers to quickly ascertain whether a potential purchaser falls into a prohibited category before going through with a gun sale. While the information NICS provides is essential to making sure guns stay out of the hands of individuals at an elevated risk of causing violence, states and federal agencies must do more to improve the process and ensure more thorough and effective background checks.
According to the Government Accounting Office or GAO, the FBI provides its own records of those who commit federal crimes, but the only way NICS receives records of state-level convictions, mental health adjudications, and other records is through voluntary submissions. We must mandate that states submit all criminal records to the NCIS and that the checks are universal and are the same in one state as they are in another.
What about private sales of firearms? Private party transactions are a particularly appealing source of guns for criminals and gun traffickers as there is no background check requirement. Approximately 80% of all firearms acquired for criminal purposes are obtained from unlicensed sellers.There is no reason why a responsible gun owner could not arrange transfer of ownership with the purchaser at their local FFL dealer. The licensed dealer would then perform the necessary background checks. This is how online gun sales are conducted. The purchased firearm is never shipped directly to the buyer but instead to the buyer’s local FFL dealer who then performs the background checks for a small fee.
The “gun show loophole” is a target of gun control advocates and would be closed by requiring private sales of firearms to be conducted through a FFL dealer. The phrase “gun show loophole” isn’t the most accurate way to describe the gap in the law according to Politifact and The Poynter Institute. “There is a huge loophole in federal law, but it isn’t for gun shows,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said. “What is called the gun-show loophole is misnamed. It should be the ‘private sale loophole’ or the ‘background check loophole.’ The reason people talk about gun shows is that they are easily accessible marketplaces for people who don’t want to be subject to a background check to find non-licensed gun sellers.”
Mandate universal background checks for all firearm sales especially private party transactions. hold the legal owner of the firearm responsible for controlling its possession and usage. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that nearly a quarter of American gun owners obtained their most recently purchased firearm without a background check. It is time to put a stop to it.
4) Firearm Safety Education
The United States does not have a national standard or requirement for firearm safety training prior to purchasing a gun and only seven states impose their own training requirements on firearms buyers. Other high-income countries, including Canada and Germany, have national standards that require some kind of safety training or exam before one can legally own a gun.
A standardized comprehensive education course similar to the one mandated by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police (CRMP) would include how to handle firearms and ammunition safely, identify the social responsibilities of firearm ownership, comply with all firearms laws and regulations, and knowledgeably and safely store and transport firearms and ammunition. No one under the age of 18 should be allowed possession of any firearm except in the presence of an adult who has also passed the required education program. Again, hold the gun owner liable for any misuse of their firearm.
5) Hold gun owners liable
The owner of a firearm should be accountable for how their gun is used and who possesses it. After adopting the above measures into law, if the gun owner fails to follow the safe storage mandate and the gun is taken and is used in the commission of a crime, then the gun owner should be held as an accomplice to the crime. The same liability would apply to a private party sale if not following the mandated universal background checks done through a FFL dealer, straw purchases, etc.
1) Aggressive law enforcement of straw purchases.
2) Mandate federal firearm safe storage laws.
3) Require firearm safety education prior to any gun purchase
4) Implement universal background check for all firearm transfers
5) Hold firearm owners civilly and criminally responsible for the use and safekeeping of their firearm.
Finally, simply banning a specific firearm such as the AR-15 is like banning a particular brand of vehicle (a Corvette for instance) because they are involved in more fatal crashes than other vehicles. It is the driver’s fault, not the Corvette. The bad driver would just get a Camaro and until we either educate the driver or remove his driving privileges, no vehicle ban is going to stop them from having more crashes. Bans on specific weapons is like putting a band-aid on a cut when the patient has cancer. We need to get at the root cause of these violent acts and put a stop to them once and for all!
David Dallas is a resident of the Village of Bradford.