In recent weeks in the wake of the Newtown , Connecticut school shootings, I have done a number of media interviews on the topic of gun violence and how will we as a nation will attempt to cope with this tragedy and somehow sensibly address this issue in the coming weeks and months.
Gun violence and the issue of more “gun control” has dominated the daily news cycles since the Newtown incident in mid December sparking s high emotions and divisiveness among Americans across the country. It seems every politician, news commentator, celebrity and gun owner has a strong and personal opinion as well as a solution but simply enforcing existing gun laws will substantially make each and every one of us safer. There a few salient issues related to existing gun laws that need to be highlighted.
Through better law enforcement, increased regulation coupled with greater social awareness we Americans have significantly improved the safety of a number of American industries to include our airlines, our highways, our swimming pools and our railroad crossings to name just a few.
There is movement and legislation afoot to greater control and regulate assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols, high capacity magazines and whatever else is deemed to be over threatening to society. I believe a simple enforcement of existing gun laws would bring a significant change to the landscape, the public’s peace of mind and, undoubtedly, make our schools, theaters, college campuses and political rallies safer and less prone to violence. There is no doubt that we as a society need to stop and reassess. Since Columbine alone there have been over 100 shootings at schools around the country and since Newtown, Connecticut just 7 weeks ago, there have been 4 or 5 gun incidents on school grounds.
Let’s as a nation, bring some common sense to the equation that reasonable people would, I believe, overwhelmingly agree. I think we all agree we must keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those that are mentally unstable. It is crystal clear from FBI statistics and anecdotal evidence that the overwhelming amount of crimes committed with firearms take place in the hands of both of those aforementioned categories; criminals and the mentally unstable.
Herein, lies the “crack in the system” as we have seen with many government programs whether it be immigration, gun registration, or student loan programs; a lack of consistency andaccountability when it comes down to enforcement. I say this tongue in cheek, but maybe we should consider contracting the management of our gun registry and background check system to UPS or FedEx. These two companies can tell us at any second of the day or night the location and status of any one of millions of packages floating around the world en route to their destinations. There are two basic “loopholes” in the system wherein someone can buy or sell a gun without a background check. We MUST close those loopholes and there is a simple solution.
First of all, if an individual with a criminal record goes to a gun shop or sporting goods store and attempts to buy a gun and he’s turned down because of a problem in his or her background, he just walks off and goes to his local gun show on any one of a number of week-end s at a variety of convention halls around the city. There he sees the semi-automatic pistol he wants sitting on a table, he negotiates a price, plops down his cash and walks out the door pistol in hand and under the radar of ATF. His second option, if he doesn’t want to or can’t get to a gun show, he just go to the trusty Internet and conducts his pistol purchase there.
In both cases he flies under the radar and no background check is conducted relative to that purchase; either of him or the pistol purchased.
Herein lies the first step in correcting the process. Each and every gun purchase in America should and MUST be transacted through a licensed Federal Firearms Dealer or Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), as they are officially called. Any transaction that is conducted otherwise is a felony. You can still go to a gun show, see a weapon you want and buy it but the sale and purchase must be transacted through a FFL or both you and the seller have committed a felony. Yes, you could risk buying the gun without the FFL and the resulting background check just as one could run the risk of buying a stolen car but the risk of is that of committing a felony. I’ll leave it up to the law-makers to decide the penalty but a sentence of 5 years as a first offense would good for starters.
Now, let’s examine the second part of the equation and an equally important part of the solution to reducing gun violence. During the course of that transaction and background check, not only is a background conducted on the purchaser but also on theweapon. This is also accomplished through a simple National Crime Information Center (NCIC) criminal database check. This would provide a screening for weapons that may have been stolen from residences, vehicles or used in prior crimes. Houston, Texas leads the nation in home burglaries and throughout the city hundreds of weapons have been stolen from people’s homes and vehicles. This would close the loophole on the “black market” sale of guns and return those stolen guns to their rightful owners. I have talked at length with my police colleagues who work the streets regarding this issue and they wholeheartedly agree.
This two-part simple background process would significantly reduce gun violence in our society.We submit to background checks in application for drivers licenses, to secure a passport or to open a bar and restaurant…let’s not slam the door on this simple and sensible concept, screaming unimpeded Second Amendment rights when asked to comply with these common sense steps which may keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of those two categories we previously cited, criminals and the mentally unstable. We honor and want to preserve the Second Amendment but it was written in different times and in a far different world…..a world where guns were single shot musket balls and gun powder and people inherently respected the rights of others and there were not desensitizing video games watched in dark corners for hours by children trying to achieve the highest score by killing as many people as possible in a blood spattered video games. Furthermore, a polling of NRA members showed a 74% support of background checks.
Lastly, the issue of some sort of “mental health check” being part of the background process has been on the discussion table. In my opinion, under current privacy laws as they relate to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), this is going to be a difficult to include. The only way some sort of mental health “box” could be checked is if a medical report signed by a mental health professional is required as a part of the background check. In the State of Texas, for example, there are certain licenses wherein the applicant is required to provide such “mental health stability” documentation. Under Texas state law in order to carry a firearm as a Personal Protection Officer, a background check by a licensed mental health professional is required. Similarly, the Texas Department of Transportation requires a mental health check in order to be issued certain drivers licenses such as long-haul trucks and other specialty vehicles.
Again, the imposition and acceptance of a common sense, functional and comprehensive background program on ALL gun sales void of any loopholes is the first real step in greatly reducing gun violence in our schools, theaters, malls and political rallies.