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JANUARY 27, 2011 12:23PM

Gun Laws, Legal Guns, and the Illegal Gun Trade

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Note: This piece was originally published on January 27th, 2011 at Here It Is.  Read more at wearenow.wordpress.com

The facts: There are roughly 307 million people in this country and the U.S. is home to a huge number of guns, some 90 firearms for every 100 Americans.  Federal gun legislation is weak and Congress and the White House have misread past electoral results and have been scared away from any law that will result in meaningful changes.  This is has led to a patchwork system across the 50 states.  States, and some cities, have passed and enforce their own gun laws.

The result: States with weak guns laws essentially cancel-out the stronger laws of neighboring States.  So we can posit that this incoherent and relatively (in many states) unregulated gun policy allows the for the trafficking of guns and the flourishing of an illegal gun market.  In 2009, more than 238,000 guns were recovered at crimes scenes and traced by BATFE.  Legal guns lead to illegal "crime guns".

Luckily we don't have to guess at anything - Mayor Against Illegal Guns has combed through FBI and BATFE data for us.  In 2008 they released their first report.  In 2010, using feedback from lawmakers and law enforcement, they expanded their scope and released a second report.  It's chilling.

Recently there has been a spate of police officers shot in the line of duty.  In early January an officer in Lakewood, New Jersey was shot and killed as he approached a pedestrian.  This past weekend officers were shot from Port Orchard, Washington to Lincoln City, Oregon to Florida and Indianapolis.  There was even a scene that could have been ripped from Robocop as a gunman walked into a police precinct in Detroit and began shooting.

Some in the news media are calling this a "War on Cops" and wonder at the reasons:  Are they motivated by a hatred of authority or dislike of Police?  Is the recession, desperation? It's difficult to parse the mind of a killer so the reasons are likely to be myriad.  The one thing that we know links all of these attacks on officers of the law is that the perpetrators had guns.  It hasn't been reported yet, but it's likely that some suspects illegally procured their weapons while others had broken no law until they shot the officers.

Gun rights defenders will point out that the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens.  This is true.  It will also be pointed out that no matter how many laws are passed, people will still acquire guns.  This is also true, but far too simplistic.  As with many things, we tend to romanticize the illegal gun issue.  When we picture the illegal weapons trade we see criminal organizations receiving shipments of large wooden crates.  The crates are packed with straw, full of gleaming black hand guns and assault rifles, and opened with a crow bar.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns helpfully shows us that this is not the case.  The data in Trace the Guns also puts to bed the idea we're better off treating firearms law as a states' rights issue.  The report crystallizes the need for comprehensive Federal (emphasis mine) legislation to enhance the protections afforded by states with strong guns laws and fill in the holes for states with weak laws and loopholes.  It's time to make sense of our gun laws.  We need to pass legislation aimed at standardizing practices for issuing permits, requirements for reporting lost or stolen weapons, regulating dealers (yes, this means closing the gun show loophole), and strengthening background checks.

Nearly all guns used in crimes (crime guns) and recovered by law enforcement were sold legally, the first time.  Crime guns that are not used by their original owner enter the illegal gun trade in any number of ways including theft and robbery from homes or gun stores, straw purchases (someone else purchases a gun for someone who can't), dealers who engage in illegal sales, and sales at gun shows where background checks are not required.  Many crime guns cross state lines and come from states with lax guns laws.  This means that thousands of crime guns are moving throughout this country and very often states with weak gun protections are directly contravening the efforts of states with strong gun control.  In fact, the report found that "just 10 states supplied nearly half of the guns that crossed state lines before being recovered in crimes..." That's almost 21,000 crime guns in 2009, alone.  Unsurprisingly, the report also found that those ten states also supply a greater percentage of guns that are likely to be trafficked.  The report concluded that "there is a strong association between a state's gun laws and it's propensity to export crime guns..."

As expected states that export a high number of crime guns import less.  This can only be due to the fact that there is no need to take the time to import illegal weapons into your state when it's easy to get at home.  Weak guns laws means more gun crime and the reverse is true.

This report should be read by everyone - and debated.  There is one conclusion to be drawn from this report: A lack of cohesive federal legislation and the wild variation in state law leads to more guns in the hands of people who should never have them.  Trace the Guns looks at ten gun laws.  While we should enact some form of all of them, we'd be advised to seriously consider these four: Background checks for all handguns at gun shows, permits for all handgun purchases, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms to local law enforcement, and a prohibition on purchases by violent miscreants (e.g. stalking, battery).

Gun control is a contentious issue and important.  We need to make sure we're using data and not simple anecdotes.  Trace the Guns, the work of the Brady Campaign, and others are attempting to quantify what lax and incoherent guns laws are doing to our communities.  Mayor Bloomberg spoke eloquently about guns this week.  He brought 34 friends with him to represent the 34 people who are killed with guns each day.  34 a day and more than 400,000 (some say more than 1 million) since 1968.  Mayor Bloomberg is addressing the issue because Congress and the White House won't.  Despite Tuscon and the 11 police officers shot since the New Year, the President couldn't even name check gun control in the State of the Union.  We need more Mayor Bloombergs and Martin Luther King IIIs - leaders who will step up and lead a discussion.

But what did the NRA have to say about this?  By calling the Mayor names and accusing him of wagging the dog.  Chuck Cunningham, the NRA Political Director, also trotted out the old, they're coming for you - "He's not after illegal guns, he's coming for your guns".  Which is not true.  The Mayor and his allies have never stated a desire to seize legally purchased guns from their owners.  Never.  And no amount of NRA mudslinging can make that true.

Those of us who favor strong gun control are willing to have an adult conversation.  It doesn't look like the other side is.

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OK, tell us what you propose in detail of how the gun laws much change.
How would you enforce the gun laws which are already on the books?
I an a veteran, a business and home owner and a friendly butt mind my own business neighbor who owns guns.
What about mine?
Ditto. I've driven a car for 40 year's without causing an accident, and owned guns for the same 40 year's without shooting anyone. Do you want to take my car, or my gun? Or both?
Oh joy. Another uniformed idealist who thinks that the solution to every problem is to throw more laws at it. Not to be overly offensive, but ...really? More laws, this is your answer?

I could do this whole statistic war and cite flaws in the research that led to the statistics you cited and carry on with a long, logical argument seated in reasonable debate with the goal of getting to you understand my view....but that would be far beyond my current impulse to simply walk away to leave you in your echo chamber.

Sir, I call poppycock.
I believe I owe you an "n" up there. Place it as you wish.
You enforce them. You spend the money that it takes, provide local law enforcement, along with state and federal agencies, to do their job. Next you mandate background checks for all legal purchases of firearms. It doesn't matter if they are purchased at a gun show, gun shop, or Walmart. If you want to purchase a gun, especially a handgun, you have to pass a background check. You also mandate permitting for all gun purchases. The permits will be granted by local law enforcement and the permit fees will support gun crime prevention and victim services programs. Law enforcement deserves to know how many firearms are in their community and who owns them. Then you require reporting to local law enforcement when a gun is lost or stolen - again, law enforcement deserves to know when a gun is no longer under lock and key. You reinstate and strengthen the assault rifle ban. No one needs a 30 round clip or a Mac-10 or Uzi to hunt or "protect" their family. Also, if you commit a violent crime - felony or misdemeanor - you are no longer eligible to buy a gun. If you own any firearms at the time of your conviction you give them up.
You also increase the penalty for gun crimes. If you steal a gun, it;s not just theft, it's theft of a gun. If you use a stolen gun - it's a sentence enhancement.

As long as you are a law abiding citizen, I don't care about your guns. Keep them. I don't want them.
You write: "Law enforcement deserves to know how many firearms are in their community and who owns them." I kinda see that, but, what else might "law enforcement" -- and who the heck IS "law enforcement"--want to know? The contents of my hard drive? The contents of my closet? WHO gets to look inside my house in order to determine what is "missing"? Believe me, I don't want nut cases owneing guns, but neither do I want agents of some new agency knocking upon my door. Hard on the heels of the gun police will come the thought police. The whole issue is not about guns, it's about liberties, responsibilities, it's about good citizenship informed by training and education, whether in cars, boats, guns, or child rearing. And as much as there's a role for the state to regulate certain things, there's no role for the state to come into my house to see what's "missing", including my car, my gun, my wife, or my copy of the Constitution.
@TheBadScot - Laws and regulations regarding driving are aimed at the worst drivers. We require drivers to obtain and renew a license. We require drivers to carry insurance. We require owners to register their cars and renew every one of two years. We require owners to submit their vehicles for emissions and/or safety inspections every few years. We also require all occupants to wear seatbelts and some states have even banned the use of handheld devices or texting while driving. We reserve the right to penalize you for breaking driving laws or even revoke your right to drive for negligent driving. You can even be tried and sent to prison for gross misconduct with a car. We can require similar restrictions for gun ownership and use. Again - as long as you follow the law, no one wants your car or gun.

@Doug Socks - I would love to sit down and discuss this with you. We can bring facts, figures, and anecdotes. We can civilly debate and I can convince you of the rightness of my position.

And yes - when it comes to guns in this country it's been shown that more, or at least stronger laws are needed.

@TheBadScot(2) - This has nothing to do with your hard drive, which is not a deadly weapon. I mean local police departments or state police agencies. I don't mean to send officers door to door. Reporting a gun lost or stolen would be a self-reporting requirement. Nothing happens if you don't report it unless the gun is subsequently used in a crime. Perhaps a fine would be in order for a first offense with escalating penalties from there.
As the laws stand now, you must pass a background check, you must not be a convicted felon, you must register the purchase of a gun with proper ID. If you seek a conceal carry license you must pass additional background checks, plus take training and pass a proficiency course in order to carry a concealed weapon.

I have heard gun ownership compared to auto ownership, but the major difference is the right to have a gun is protected by the constitution and with all constitutional rights they are not subject to the whims of the state.

There is a two fold reason for why the founders of this country put the right to weapons in the constitution. One to protect against enemies of not only the country, but the very constitution itself. Meaning the people not the state have the right to protect our constitutional freedoms even from our own government.

The tragic events in Arizona could not be stopped because there is no protection from crazy and just passing another law will not change that. The main reason why these events shock us so is because we just do not expect it to happen and 99.99999% of the time it doesn't happen. That is why thousands of congressmen and women, senators, governors, state legislators, judges, mayors and council men and women move freely without security or armed guards. How many have been shot over the years? How many need protection from the people they serve? It is a very rare event when it does happen.

This country is not an armed camp with millions of gunmen waiting to shot us all. The majority of citizens live in relative peace and security.We transition our leadership every two and four years without revolution or war. Most will never be a victim of gun violence or even witness gun violence. Beyond the hyper bold the truth is most of the people even in large urban areas live in peace with each other.
The craziest thing is the number of guns in America is an estimate. If we don't know how many guns there are, how can any assertion about guns be accurate.

Maybe most guns are owned by responsible people. Do we really know? Of course not.
Get over it, the guns are here to stay.
First, what the hell is the "Gun show loophole"? I've heard this term bantered about and am somewhat confused because any gun show I have been to, if you are a gun dealer and sell a firearm, handgun or long gun, they are required to do a background check. I know this to be a fact. Now, it many states, you as an individual can bring a personal firearm to the show, and sell or trade it to a dealer (which by law they must add to their inventory records) or to another individual. If the sale or trade is to a private individual, in most cases their is no paperwork required. This same transaction can occur ANYWHERE, not just at a gunshow. Second, it has been my experience as a writer for Examiner. com for Religion and Politics that anytime someone starts throwing out stats to bolster their point, they are usually unrealistic. Always run the numbers. Third, of the four laws you mention, two of them are already in force, and the problems continues unabated. Fourth, many of these massive weapons busts that are covered in the media often depict what appear to be fully automatic weapons. Although a person can in fact buy and own a full auto, the federal regulations governing these purchases are daunting. Most average people don't bother to go through the hassle. Criminals are not getting them at Bobs gun store, or at Wal Mart. Last, and I know its been said, but few seem to be listening, gun laws only affect those who obey them. I have a gun permit and the chance of having a shoot out with another permit holder is highly unlikely. It would probably be some punk who is trying to rob me or something worse.
Ownership of guns shouldn't be prohibited. Misuse of guns should be harshly punished. I have no problem with the idea of all violent gun crimes be associated with a +20 yr punishment added to whatever other crime was committed. Gun murders should be associated with life in prison w/o possibility of parole. Prohibition doesn't work to stop crimes. Punishment does. With our current fairly high incarceration rate, our violent crime rate is down (lower than it's been since the mid 1960s).
Another big problem is the way children are raised and taught that violence is a good way to settle our problems. In fact this is a bigger problem than the guns themselves although guns do make it easier for a troubled child or adult to kill many instead of just one.

The most important thing that can be done to reduce violence in the long run is to reduce child abuse. This would also reduce the paranoia that is present in a large segment of the gun community that leads to the extreme obsession with guns. Many gun owners almost certainly would not oppose reasonable gun laws to keep them out of the hands of fanatics or prevent thirty clip machine guns from being used.
@GeorgeWhite - The "Gun Show Loophole" is a Federal law that allows people who are not "in the business of dealing guns or only sell "occasionally" within their state of residence to not perform background checks. The problem is in absence of cohesive federal law, the states cities have developed a patchwork system. 7 states require background checks on all guns shows.

The same is true with other gun laws. Here, in Washington State, you are only required to obtain a conceal carry permit for handguns, not a purchase permit. I am not required to register the gun. It creates an uneven system - Washington has reciprocity with some states when it comes to conceal carry, but some of those same states don't reciprocate.

Montana has even gone ahead and attempted to nullify any Federal laws and regulations regarding guns. The lack of cohesion means gun enforcement and background checks are uneven across the country. Can't buy a gun in your state for whatever reason - you can pop over to another with looser laws.

@M Todd - Thank you for your reasoned response. Of course we're not an "armed camp". But I think you'll agree that there is a problem when some 31,000 people are dying from guns each year with 66,000 people wounded. Compare that to other countries. Canada, the UK, Spain, Australia, Finland, Germany, and Italy together have a population roughly equivalent to the US. When you combined their gun murder rates, you end up with 600 or so. Break it down by percentage by 100,000 residents and the U.S. is the only country in double digits. Are we a more violent society? No. The problem is access to guns and haphazard laws that allow people who shouldn't guns to acquire them.
Mike it is a two fold problem. One those who should not have guns can get them and unlike many countries the US has a much higher level of personal freedom and less restriction of movement from one area to the next. We value our privacy and do not care for government peering into our movements and lives.

I think what most want is protection from criminals. The figure you sighted of 31,000 gun deaths also includes over 17,050 suicides, 1240 accidental deaths 620 legal shootings by law enforcement. That leaves 12,090 what would be classified as criminal deaths by handguns. Now within that 12,090 (still a high number) what is the percentage of crime on crime violence?

I cannot speak for the rest of the population, but from my experience most are worried about violence to innocent people such as unarmed non-combatives such as children, women and men who are the true victims of crime. That is the number I am most worried about because most do not participating in crime or deal with criminals.

I live in a state with CCL and our state crime rate has dropped. It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1.5 million violent crimes are prevented by private ownership of guns nationwide each year. In the majority of encounters just the presents of a gun unfired did the trick to stop a violent crime. Why because criminals prey on the weakest of society. Truth is a 125 pound women with a gun bets a 250 pound man with a knife. And the old idea of just do what the criminal says results in a lot of deaths and rapes compared to fighting back.

I personally believe that anyone buying a gun should be required to take the CCL training because they learn gun safety, what the laws are for using deadly force and proficiency in weapon use. Even if they do not carry a concealed weapon they have the proper training. And frankly they have more respect for owning a weapon and responsibility if they are forced to use it.
@M Todd - If only we could have conversation like this more broadly. I'll disagree with you about the relative amount and concepts of freedom from in the U.S. compared to other Western nations and leave it at that.

I think your belief on the need for training and respect for the gun is vital.

A 2009 study showed that people with guns with 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault. Another study also showed that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, criminal assault, or accidental shooting than a self defense shooting. Also, FBI data shows that there are only about 200 justified self defense shooting each year.

As far as CCLs are concerned, I don't understand the need to walk around with a gun - we're not a frontier country any longer. I appreciate the need to have them as a possible sentence enhancement - if you are arrested and a gun is found on you and you have no permit it can be an extra penalty, which is great.

A story coming out of Arizona is that one of the men who subdued Loughner nearly shot another hero of the event when he grabbed the gun away. The potential shooter was permitted, trained, and former military - he knew enough to stop himself. Not everyone is as well trained as that gentlemen or yourself. Just yesterday there was report of a5 year old who brought a loaded gun, that he found on the floor of his parents car, to a Pre-K class. Another negligent gun owner was cleaning his gun and left it on the table. His six year old daughter shot herself in the chest. Gun laws need to be written for the most negligent and criminal gun owners - currently they are not.
It's just silly dithering and blathering unless you discuss amending the very concretely written constitutional language that prevents any infringement of the rights to both keep and bear arms.
I'll sign the petition, but am tired of 50 years of the same cheezy arguments that just don't matter unless you tangle amending the constitution.
I meant tackle not tangle.
I've got 43,000 dead to your 36,o0o. I'll see your tighter regulation and raise you a ban. The question now is, am I talking cars or cigarettes?
There's always going to be an imbalance between a bad guy with a gun and a good guy who would only use it for self defense.

You hear a noise your house. The chances are greater that it is your teenager who snuck out for a date, your toddler who can't sleep, or your spouse come home from their business trip early than it is an armed intruder. If you are an armed intruder, the noise is almost certainly an enraged and possibly armed homeowner. The intruder can shoot at shadows and strange noises, the homeowner can't. Who's more likely to get shot?

Ditto for armed citizens who want to protect the public from crazed shooters on a rampage. Who can shoot without aiming and who needs to be sure no innocent bystander might get hurt.

Such odds always favor the criminal.
It is always these hysterically frightened and confused ANTI's(anti everyone else's things) who rant & rave and go on & on about things which they think they know butt, in reality, more than likely don't even know any or many of us RESPONSIBLE American citizens who own guns.
When they whine about more laws, etc., they do not possess the common sense that we responsible American gun owners are the ones who ALREADY OBEY THE LAWS and that the criminals do not, no matter how many laws there are.
I am a gun owner who supports responsible and legal gun ownership and also support gun safety courses for everyone who owns/handles a gun.
kelly is just another of the hysterical fools who think they have all the answers while adding nothing butt fear and confusion in response to legal gun owners' common sense proposals.

And, to Fred Hallman,
"I meant tackle not tangle."
Tangling the consitution is what the SCOTUS if for.lol
Mike: It would stand to reason that guns would be the weapon of choice for any act of violence. So there is no argument gun in the hands of criminals will increase their willingness to commit violence compared to not being armed. It is logical that someone with a gun has a superior advantage and people being people when there is an advantage a criminal or person prone to violence would be more likely to commit a crime. But, what makes a gun the perfect offensive weapon also makes it the perfect defense weapon. Why do you think police carry them?

As for guns in the hands of untrained people, yes that will always be a problem and just because you have a gun means you are safe. In our state if someone leaves a gun where a child can access it they are charged with criminal child endangerment and if a child is hurt by neglected gun ownership they are charged with additional crimes up to manslaughter. I do not know what it is in your state, but many states will hold the gun owner responsible for securing their weapons.

It is not a perfect world and sometimes even the person trained and defending themselves with a gun find their very own gun turned on them. It even happens to the police, but no one is saying for those very rare incidences that the police should not carry weapons. Statistically though guns in the hands of law abiding citizens stop 500,000 to 1.5 million violent crimes a year. Some sight studies of 2.5 million, but personally I find that figure high. Even at the low estimate statistically that makes the off chance your very own gun being turned on you almost non existent compared to the positive outcome for the innocent.

As for CCL even though I have a permit I do not carry a gun. I do not live in a high crime area, but either work or live in one so it is not for me to judge. That is not to say someone might go crazy and start shooting up the Boarders while I am looking for a magazine, but it is highly unlikely and not worth the hassle of carrying a weapon. Plus when you do carry a weapon there is a extra responsibility that I find to burden to deal with.

I use to shoot IDPA which was for fun, but it does prepare you for defensive shooting. The number one rule is the one who can draw and fire accuracy first - wins. My best time was 1.7 seconds to place two shot each in the center of three human silhouette target spaced 4 feet apart 10 feet way. And I was at the slower end of the group I shot with, but in reality against an armed criminal with no training I like my odds.

The second rule is if you find yourself having to draw your weapon you better be damn ready to take a life. There is no just shoot them in the arm training in IDPA. For most that sobering thought alone does a lot to squelch any cowboy mentality someone might have about carrying a weapon.

I tend to believe most gun owners are reasonable and non violent people. The problem is those few who are unreasonable and violent do have guns. I am not looking for them, but if they found me I would rather take my chances armed than unarmed.
If the gun banners would grow up and stop getting rabid whenever there's an incident involving a gun maybe they would be take seriously.

How many more gun laws do you want? Automatic weapons have been illegal for private ownership for a long time yet for some reason the banners keep wanting more laws on automatic weapons.