|From Trace The Guns|
The National Rifle Association's (NRA) favorite talking point is that we need to "enforce gun laws on books already before passing more." This sentiment was echoed by Pennsylvania blogger Sebastian at the gun blog Snow Flakes In Hell recently as he dismissed efforts to improve gun laws that combat gun trafficking.
Sebastian has been a featured guest on the National Rifle Association's (NRA) media outlets so it's not surprising to see he is blind to the role the gun lobby has played in making gun laws largely unenforceable.
Sebastian takes issue with the below segment in a The Times of Trenton column by Brady Campaign vice president Daniel Vice:
But our country's weak gun laws allow traffickers and killers to stockpile guns in states with weaker laws and smuggle them into our communities. In New Jersey, strong laws make it so much harder for criminals to get firearms that guns flood in from states with weak gun laws at a rate seven times higher than the number of crime guns trafficked out of the state.
Responding, Sebastian writes:
That's funny, because in the country I live in this practice is a felony. So I would like to understand how our "weak guns laws" are allowing criminals to "stockpile guns" in states with "weaker laws." In all 50 states, it's a felony for criminals to have a single gun or round of ammunition, let alone stockpile them. I'm afraid the weak laws they are speaking of are laws which allow them to be sold at all. One reason firearms are trafficked into New Jersey is that New Jersey only has a relatively small number of FFLs compared to most other states. There are few legal channels in the Garden State, so criminals do what the law abiding can't, go out of state.
Regardless of how New Jersey compares to other States there are lots of Federal Firearms Licensees in New Jersey. Further, there is no reason to assume the gun traffickers Vice mentions are necessarily previously convicted criminals unable to legally obtain firearms.
But to answer the question of how weak gun laws facilitate trafficking is pretty straight forward: the gun lobby kneecaps enforcement efforts at every possible opportunity.
University of California at Los Angeles Professor of Public Policy Mark Kleiman, who considers himself "not a huge fan" of gun control described the problem of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals in America as follows:
All that matters is keeping guns away from people who demonstrably shouldn't have them. Present law does that, but the gun lobby has done many things to make that law impossible to enforce.
How does the gun lobby do this? Ask Joseph Bielevicz, a detective with the Pittsburgh's Police Firearms Tracking Unit. Bielevicz wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the NRA convention:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms maintains a database which could provide a wide variety of valuable trace information with just a few keystrokes. But the NRA's allies in Congress have successfully passed laws which limit the data that may be released to law enforcement agencies.
The catch is that each agency may receive information only about its own gun recoveries and traces. So, for instance, Pittsburgh police cannot view information on gun recoveries and traces in the many boroughs that surround the city. Since gun traffickers and other violators do not respect municipal or state borders, it is puzzling that the NRA would push for laws that serve only to hamper efforts at investigation and interagency intelligence gathering.
What other policies could enable gun trafficking? The presence and absence of laws that could prevent gun trafficking are documented by the Trace The Guns project initiated last year by Mayor Against Illegal Guns.
The most obvious are state and federal loopholes that allow buyers to bypass the background checks. Under federal law prohibited buyers can bypass background checks by seeking out a private seller. By visiting a gun show criminals can quickly find a wide variety of guns with ease.
In New Jersey if a person were to visit a gun show and purchase a handgun then a background check would always be required. Not so for geographically close Delaware, Virginia or West Virginia.
Strawing buying, buying a gun on behalf of a prohibited person, is a federal crime but only certain states enable local prosecutors to target straw buyers. In New Jersey a local prosecutor could go after a straw buyer independently, not so in Delaware or Pennsylvania.
Laws governing gun dealers also vary from state to state. A handful of states don't allow criminal penalties for selling a gun without a proper background check. Many don't allow or require state inspection of gun dealers that could potentially detect bad apple gun dealers.
Again and again the gun lobby opposes efforts to address these loopholes. The result of these laws is exactly what Vice describes: cops in states like New Jersey end up sorting through out of state guns at crime scenes.