Right now there are millions of firearm sale records sitting in a warehouse in Virginia waiting to be processed. Kevin Johnson wrote an article about it in USA Today. He talks about the inefficiency of the ATF’s record keeping system. Records are being sent to the ATF by defunct firearm dealers. These firearm dealers are required to keep records of sales, and when they close down to send these records to the ATF. Then the records are supposed to be put into a National Tracing Center in order to assist law enforcement in tracking criminal usage of firearms.
Even though the records are being sent, they are very difficult to use. The reason for this is that there is no standardization for keeping them. The ATF reports getting stacks of notecards, hard drives, and even notebooks. Due to the lack of any uniform record system, the millions of records must be entered by hand into the National Tracking Center. The high demand on manpower to enter these records has made it impossible to enter them. This is combined with an increase in demand for these records from local law enforcement. There were over 18,000 requests last year. Many of the requests required ATF officials to hand-sort documents in order to get law enforcement the information it needed.
Even if the records could all be entered, the use of the system is highly controlled due to federal law that “Prohibits the creation of searchable a database on firearms’ buyers”. So without a warrant, local law enforcement cannot even use this database that they have created. What is the point then? Why is a database being created that is ineffective and hard to access? It seems like a waste of time in its current state. If legislation was passed that standardized the record keeping process of gun dealers, and gave wider access to the National Tracing Center, then maybe it would be worth it.
Under current Federal law neither is likely to happen. Expanding access would make it a national registry of firearm buyers. That is illegal and should change. The framework is already there for a national registry. If record keeping was standardized then the information from closed stores could be easily kept, and the information from operating stores could be accessed directly form the source. The registry could be responsible for defunct store records, and the rest of the records could be kept buy private businesses like they currently are. The ATF knows which firearms go to which stores, so allowing them to keep track of their own sales, and be able to legally access that information would make for a very transparent way of tracking firearms.
Perhaps one day a measure like this will be passed, but that is unlikely right now due to the partisan nature of the issue. The value of the system is questionable since most guns used in crime are accessed through illegal means, and this would track legal purchases. Either way, it is a measure supported by the vast majority of the public and should be implemented.
A recent CNN poll has shown a huge change in America’s attitude toward gun control. Just three weeks after the mass shooting in Oregon, those who oppose stricter gun control gained six points on a national poll. In his article, Jeremy Diamond explains how public opinion is changing, as well as racial and regional splits between gun control support and opposition.
The usual trend in the US is for mass shootings to prompt a shift in public support for gun control. For example, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting Connecticut, and Maryland passed assault weapons bans. Also, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced an Assault Weapons ban in congress two weeks after the shooting that almost passed. In this case however, pro-gun-rights groups seem to have won out. The poll admits a 3 point margin of error, but with a 6 point gain showing that 52% of Americans oppose stricter gun control it is undeniable that there has been a strange shift in public opinion. Even in the state where the most recent shooting occurred—Oregon—there has been a huge revival of pro-gun activism. Oregon is a very rural state, and as mentioned by Diamond in his article “two-thirds of Americans who live in rural areas oppose tighter gun control laws”. There has even been a refusal by many Oregon county Sheriffs to enforce new gun control issued in the state.
Why the change? Perhaps it has to do with the opinion that many Americans believe there should be a clear majority before new laws are passed. Diamond mentions that “About seven in 10 Americans believe it is important for most Americans to support proposed changes to gun laws before those changes are implemented. And 61% said the same of gun owners. People are less willing to take action without a majority, and according to the poll 61% think that laws should only be passed with the support of the majority of gun owners. There has also been a developing opinion that “it is important for both parties to come to a consensus before making any changes to existing gun laws” which is held by about half of poll takers. The problem with this line of thinking though is that a consensus is almost impossible. About “76% of Republicans oppose stricter gun control compared to just 25% of Democrats” so compromise or agreement on such a partisan issue is highly unlikely. If both parties followed public opinion polls then maybe they could pass legislation that has overwhelming support, but the fact that they have not done so yet makes it unlikely that they will ever do so
Perhaps people are fed up with half-measures and ineffective laws that have been forced through in the past by legislators in the aftermath of mass shootings. There have been countless gun control laws passed that promise to reduce gun crime, but have had little to no effect. Maybe there will be a shift from “Gun Control” to crime control as many Americans still support universal background checks. However, the actions of the Oregon sheriffs seems to put the effectiveness of such laws in question.
With the recent school shootings in Oregon, and Arizona gun control has become a major topic for democratic candidates in this election cycle. The media attention these shootings received, and their proximity to the Democratic debates almost ensured that it would be a topic of discussion. Many Democratic nominees have tried to avoid gun control as a topic of discussion. It makes sense when you consider that thirty two percent of Americans are gun owners, and Bernie Sanders—one of the top nominees—is from a very gun friendly state. Alienating such a large group of people is political suicide.
After the passage of the 1994 Assault weapons ban by Clinton, democrats lost their majority in the following election. After Martin O’Malley passed the assault weapons ban in Maryland, his successor lost the mayoral election to a republican. So it makes sense that many Democrats would be hesitant to take a strong stance on gun control. That is changing however. Hillary Clinton made it clear in the democratic debates that she would seek to toughen restrictions on both gun owners, and manufacturers. Hillary Clinton mentioned that “We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence” and stand up “…Against the NRA”. Though her statistic is misguided, and includes gun suicides–which account for two thirds of all gun deaths—and does not explain how restrictions on manufacturers would prevent suicide, she is showing a clear willingness to proceed with stricter gun control.
Many Republicans are delighted by this move because they believe that “Democrats are underestimating the power of the pro-gun-rights movement and risk overplaying their hand on the issue”. It is very true that taking a strong stance on a delicate issue can alienate the majority of voters. If Hillary continues to suggest legislation that is too restricting she risks making enemies of the majority of moderate gun owners. The fact of the matter is that “…only about half the public feels an impetus for greater restrictions on gun ownership” and that “People are also split on the effectiveness of stricter gun laws or background checks in stopping convicted criminals from buying guns”. So once again taking a strong stance on such a dividing issue could easily alienate a huge amount of the electorate. If democrats are not careful to frame their arguments for new gun control, then they could easily lose seats in congress, or even the presidency.
Once again a national tragedy is being used to advocate a political agenda. One that would see the ban of the media termed assault weapons, or as Bernie Sanders has suggested all semi-automatic rifles. Even though rifles account for under 3% of the total firearm homicides in this country, they are being targeted. Hillary Clinton mentioned that ninety Americans are killed each day by firearms. Sixty of those deaths are suicides, and their preventability is debatable. Of the remaining thirty, over half killed each day are African American males. That is six percent of the population accounting for half of the nation’s firearm homicides. Why is this not a topic for national debate? Why is gun violence always linked to the availability of guns, and not the poverty, and drug trafficking that is so prevalent in our nations inner cities? Cities that account for a disproportionate amount of firearm deaths per capita. Maybe our politicians should spend more political capital on the societal factors behind gun violence, and less so on the guns themselves.
Chris Van Hollen, a Representative from Maryland has proposed that the Federal Government adopt Maryland’s recently passed laws on handguns. That would entail requiring Licenses for purchase of handguns, fingerprinting, and passing a background check and handgun registration with the state police. For the most part this proposal is decent as it does not target specific firearms, and tries to actually reduce the illegal use of handguns. However, many of these measures will only inconvenience law abiding citizens and may have little to no effect on the national crime rate.
Being from Maryland, and being a firearm owner, I am very familiar with Maryland’s “Assault Weapon Ban of 2013”. Along with pointlessly banning firearm models that are rarely used in crime, the law instituted a strict process for purchasing handguns. First a potential buyer is required to take a HQL (Handgun Qualification Course) in order to receive a license to purchase a handgun. Once they pass the HQL course they are fingerprinted. Next, when they actually want to purchase the handgun they must pass a background check. Some people see a responsible set of policies that are—as Jenifer Pauliukonis called them–“Common sense” measures to prevent gun violence. While I am happy that the legislation is going after handguns, which account for the overwhelming majority of firearm crimes, I do not like how it targets law abiding citizens the way it does. Why should a person legally purchasing a handgun have their fingerprint put in the system like a common criminal? The handgun will already be registered in their name. So why are their fingerprints needed? It just seems like law abiding citizens are being treated as if their decision to buy a firearm makes them more likely to be a criminal. These so called “Common-sense” laws are supposedly responsible for a “40% drop in homicides over 10 years” in Connecticut where a similar handgun licensing law was passed. These findings were cited from a Johns Hopkins university study on gun policy. The Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, Daniel Webster, has publicly stated that “Most guns used in violent crimes come from the streets” or in other words they are illegally purchased and owned firearms.
So why make it harder for people to purchase legally? There is no good reason for law abiding citizens to be fingerprinted and put in the criminal data base. That is offensive and serves no purpose but to victimize law abiding purchasers. The good things that the bill can offer is the required HQL course. Similarly to getting a driver’s license, you need an HQL to purchase a handgun in Maryland. Like getting a driver’s license you need to pass a safety course. Promoting safety is always a good thing, and I am all for it. What I do not like about the proposed bill is that it does nothing to prevent Straw purchases–where someone buys a firearm for another person who legally cannot possess one—or the “Street” guns that Mr. Webster cited as being used most often in violent crime. Clear and defined punishments for those who operate outside of the law would be more effective than targeting legal purchases which are less often used in crime. Who is going to use a gun registered in their name to commit a crime? Especially when a fired shell and casing is kept by the state police–at least in Maryland–in order to identify the weapon if used in a crime.
Though I heavily urge the practice of promoting firearm safety, I oppose any attempt to use the licensing feature of this law to limit the right of citizens to purchase firearms. The class should be required, but easily passable. Fingerprinting of law abiding citizens should not happen, and registration should be done with no inconvenience to the purchaser. Background checks did little to stop the recent shooter of two reporters on live television, but if it stops at least one unfit person from getting a firearm and causing harm to themselves or others it is worth it.