One of the excuses given by the gun lobby while resisting common sense attempts to expand and strengthen gun laws, is to insist that we are not enforcing the laws already on the books. Let’s take a look at this excuse. A CNN article about President Obama’s January town hall on guns talks about the enforcement of laws like this:
The President expressed frustration at the “Guns in America” forum hosted by CNN on Thursday night at his opponents telling him to enforce existing laws, saying those same opponents are trying to undermine them.“One of the most frustrating things that I hear is when people say — who are opposed to any further laws — ‘Why don’t you just enforce the laws that are on the books?'” Obama said. “And those very same members of Congress then cut (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) budgets to make it impossible to enforce the law.”
Obama said some of his new proposals are designed to get at the issue of resources and the difficulties using existing law, including adding ATF agents and clarifying statutes to make them more usable. (…)Pro-gun-control experts and some former law enforcement officials say that a lack of resources combined with vague and toothless laws make federal gun prosecutions difficult. And they accuse gun lobbies of intentionally watering down legislation and hamstringing agencies so the laws are useless, a point lobbyists contacted by CNN declined to address.
One is simply a resource problem: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, which investigates licensed gun dealers, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are woefully understaffed and replete with red tape, gun control supporters say.The groups also say the federal laws themselves have such high standards to meet in court that it’s a disincentive for resource-strapped federal prosecutor offices to bring cases, as they don’t want to waste their time on cases they are not likely to win.“It is true that gun laws are vastly under-enforced, but the reason that they’re under-enforced is not because the administration or law enforcement has failed: It’s because they’re written in a way that makes them impossible to enforce — intentionally,” Trumble said. “They’re too vague to prosecute, the standards are too high to meet, the penalties are too low to be a deterrent and there’s too little evidence to prosecute.”The Gun Control Act requires those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to obtain a license from ATF, and licensed dealers are required to run background checks and follow federal laws on dealing weapons. But what constitutes “engaged in the business” has been unclear, and prosecutors say it can be tough to prove unlicensed individuals who sell multiple weapons online and at gun shows have broken the law.
“So much about law is about setting cultural norms,” Alcorn said. “Just like the reasons you stop at red lights and don’t speed isn’t because there’s a traffic cop behind every corner.”Instead, he said, it’s “the sense that a law is legitimate, that it enforces public safety that we all share and all appreciate, and a sense of ownership and mutual responsibility are sort of ultimately self-fulfilling.”
Submitting false information on a background check is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. But as many as 160,000 people are denied a gun purchase each year because they failed a check. Few are ever apprehended, much less prosecuted. Available federal and state data suggest that the percentage of arrests as a proportion of denied sales is extremely low — likely in the single digits.Pennsylvania is one of eight states where lawmakers and police have sought to boost arrests and prosecutions by passing laws and implementing so-called “lie and try” policies requiring local law enforcement agencies to be notified whenever someone fails a background check. The goal is to give police a tool they can use to arrest dangerous individuals before they can secure a gun and possibly harm someone. In 32 states, a person who is blocked from buying a firearm at a licensed dealer can turn to a private seller who is not required to run a background check. One 2009 study found a strong proclivity towards further illegal behavior by denied gun purchasers, determining that a third of convicted criminals rejected when attempting to buy a gun are caught breaking another law during the next five years.
Pennsylvania state police have investigated at least some denied gun purchases for over a decade, but until recent years, it was only a small percentage of the overall number. Then in late 2013, police there decided to investigate every failed background check, says Scott Price, a state police major. If a purchaser is denied because of an outstanding warrant, state police now immediately dispatch local officers to arrest the individual at the gun dealer, Price says.
Before the new policy was implemented, Price says, only blocked sales that raised the biggest red flags — like those for mental health commitments — were pursued. “But that left a whole body of denials that weren’t investigated,” he says. “So, we didn’t feel that that was the best public safety policy.” (…)
By acting quickly on notifications of denied sales, Price says, officers are often able to nab “lie-and-try” offenders before they get very far. “We’ve had a great deal of success in actually making these arrests at the point of attempted purchase.” He adds that his officers have encountered people disqualified from firearms ownership for the gamut of reasons. “Anything from a minor offense — a DUI warrant or a failure to appear in court — up through armed robbery.”
Most states with laws or policies for clamping down on “lie and try” buyers require only that law enforcement is notified about a rejected purchaser — there’s no mandate that police act on that information. But Virginia and Oregon join Pennsylvania in compelling police to investigate every denied sale. Last year in Virginia, police arrested 1,265 denied purchasers. Oregonpolice arrested 40 buyers on the spot, and referred hundreds more cases to local departments for investigation.
So what does the gun lobby have to say about enforcing the laws already on the books? From the article:
The National Rifle Association has never officially endorsed a “lie and try” policy, though in the past, the gun group has called on the federal government to address the low prosecution rate for prohibited persons who attempt to buy firearms. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the gun lobby’s representatives asked the White House’s gun violence prevention task force to enforce federal laws that make it illegal to lie on a gun background check form.
“This is a program that I believe is largely something people on both sides of the aisle support,” says Scott Price, the Pennsylvania State Police major. “Even the NRA has always been a proponent of enforcing the laws that are on the books.”
Time will tell if this is true. The gun lobby opposes pretty much any measure that would make it very difficult for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them anyway. It’s hard to know what to make of that inconsistency in thought. Unless it’s more about profit than about saving lives.
Unfortunately, sending these cases to the ATF for further action is difficult, according to the article. Not many cases get prosecuted. But if we remember that, at the behest of the NRA and the corporate gun lobby, Congress has denied funding to hire more ATF agents so they can do their jobs properly and efficiently then we can understand what is happening
An Omaha pastor was stopped at an Eppley Airfield’s security station with a loaded handgun in his carry-on and is facing prosecution Sunday night because it’s not the first time he’s done it.
[Video: Omaha pastor stopped for second time at airport with gun in carry-on]
“I had to pay a fine,” the Rev. Alvin “Dobie” Weasel said. “I had to meet with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and do an interview with two officers. I had to do an interview with a Transportation Security Administration officer.”
Weasel, who has a concealed-carry permit, said he told authorities it was an honest mistake when he showed up at the airport with it in his bag, saying he thought his gun was at home in a safe.
“It’s about 40 pounds and it’s stuffed with everything,” Weasel said. “(I) think what happened was the gun fell in between two of the larger books.”
The slip-up on New Year’s Eve wasn’t the first time Weasel has made the mistake; in 2014, the same bag was found to contain a different gun.
“When it occurs twice with the same individual, it warrants prosecution,” Omaha interim city prosecutor Tom Mumgaard said.
So it looks like he will be prosecuted and they expect it could be a misdemeanor. And then what? Here’s a law that clearly needs enforcement. The TSA is finding more and more loaded guns in carry-on luggage now than ever before? Why? Because more people are carrying guns around and therefore there are more potentially dangerous and stupid people with guns around in public. Given that, let’s hope that offenders and repeat offenders like the Pastor in the article are prosecuted and held responsible for violating the law.
What if the law to take guns away from known domestic abusers worked as it should? What if we enforced it better? A man in Maryland urned his guns over to law enforcement but kept one and that one was used in a shooting spree in Maryland that left 3 dead and 3 injured. From the article:
Two months earlier, according to local authorities, he had surrendered at least 10 guns under a judge’s order issued after Tordil’s wife accused him of physically and sexually abusing his family.
But Tordil, a Federal Protective Service officer, kept at least one weapon when he handed in the rest of his arsenal: a .40-caliber Glock he allegedly used to carry out the shootings on May 4 and 5.
Tordil bought the gun legally in Las Vegas in 2014, said State’s Attorney John McCarthy at a hearing on Monday where Tordil was denied bond.
Tordil kept the weapon by exploiting a weakness in state and federal laws designed to keep domestic abusers from using weapons: Local law enforcement had no way of knowing he owned it.
A “weakness if state and federal laws” has left a senseless tragedy that devastated several families. When it comes to deadly weapons owned by people who shouldn’t have them, there should be no weaknesses in the law. Why was there a weakness in the law? From the article:
Maryland has a handgun registry. But Nevada, where Tordil purchased the Glock, does not. Nor is there a federal registry of firearms, the spectre of which the National Rifle Association and its allies have used to knock down a range of legislation.
David Cheplak is a spokesman for the Baltimore Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which traced the gun, found in Tordil’s car, to a federally licensed dealer in Las Vegas. He said that if Tordil had bought the weapon in Maryland, he would have been required to register it there with state police.
Ah- registration of guns would have saved lives. And before you gun rights folks wet your pants about the mere suggestion of gun registration, maybe you ought to think about why it might be important for saving lives. It has nothing to do with the government taking YOUR guns away. It is to make sure we know if dangerous people have guns so we can save lives. I am raising it because we may need to have this conversation given cases like the one in Maryland. It is doubtful that anything like that can happen given the fears of gun rights advocates. But it could be helpful to talk about the fears and the implications in a civil manner. I’m just saying….
More from the article about the laws:
Maryland has a relatively robust law aimed at alleged domestic abusers. The authority to require suspects to give up guns has “enormous benefits for victims of domestic violence,” Taylor says, but is limited by the lack of a totally effective gun registry.
If Gladys Tordil or other family members had known of the extra gun Tordil kept, or if a record existed, then the sheriff’s office could have obtained a warrant from the judge and confiscated it as long as the protective order was still in effect.
But authorities had to rely on the word of a man accused of threatening to kill his wife that he was giving up his means to do so. That left Tordil free to stay armed and murder Gladys Tordil and two others.
So our laws rely on the abuser or the offender to be honest and say how many guns they have? Or to check on a form when purchasing a firearm that you are not adjudicated mentally ill, a felon or a domestic abuser? That is why we need to do background checks on all gun sales so that can be checked out by authorities. Lives depend on our getting guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. Stronger laws can do that.
Just to throw in another thought, what should we think when Uber drivers in Austin, Texas threaten to pull their business because of a new law requiring universal background checks on all drivers? Uber drivers are not always safe and law abiding as we see from the article:
Uber’s explosive growth has been met with concern about safety in many places where it has disrupted the existing order of transportation services, especially as incidents involving passengers being assaulted by drivers have been publicized. In 2014, Uber unilaterally decided to increase scrutiny in background checks for drivers, requiring all new and existing partners to undergo federal and county background checks. But those checks are not always effective. That was at least true in the case of John Dalton: an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who went on a killing spree in February while on the job. Dalton passed a background check because he had no criminal record. Uber does not collect fingerprints for drivers, or even require any face-to-face meeting before they are permitted to start accepting fares with its app.
Public safety is too important to let some people slip through the cracks. Lives depend on our getting this right.
I’m sure I don’t have to mention the irony of requiring universal background checks on Uber drivers but not on all gun sales.
So let’s enforce the laws on the books and make sure we are funding the efforts to do so. And then let’s pass stronger gun laws that are simple and direct so that it’s very clear what’s in the law. When that happens everyone will understand what the law means and what can be done to stop some from getting guns and make us all safer. In the end, that is the bottom line. Laws can change our dangerous gun culture. Changing the gun culture can lead to better laws to prevent gun injuries and deaths. That should be supported by everyone who cares about saving lives.