The question dominating news today is whether gun control works, and if not, why not. To address this dilemma it’s first necessary to examine its premise and define terms.
Gun control is premised on the notion that people commit violent crimes because of the existence of firearms, and because people have access to them. Some assume that limiting both will significantly reduce violent crime. Both the premise and assumption are badly flawed.
We have had a massive regulatory system in place for decades, and it has failed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. No one can walk into a gun store, hand over money and immediately walk out with a firearm. Only those approved by existing laws governing firearms can purchase guns. They must be of a certain minimum age — 18 for rifles and shotguns, 21 for handguns — and provide a valid driver’s license. If it’s expired, suspended or revoked, or the intended purchaser moved and failed to update the address on their license, the person cannot buy a gun.
After meeting these requirements, one must fill out Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Form 4473, provide identifying information and answer a series of questions. Buying a gun for someone else — a straw purchase — is prohibited.
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In addition, many other conditions make it illegal to purchase a gun: felony conviction or indictment, being a fugitive from justice, drug use, dishonorable discharge from the military, renunciation of citizenship, being in the country illegally, not being a citizen, being the subject of a restraining order, or conviction for domestic violence. Falsifying information on this form is a felony, subjecting the guilty to prison, fines and losing the right to own a firearm or vote.
Suppose the buyer lies? Gun stores are required to call the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System verifying buyer information. Police agencies around the country provide data on prohibited people to the FBI, which is entered into a centralized database. The FBI then directs the gun store to proceed or deny the sale.
Suppose the intended buyer has no criminal record but is mentally unstable? Anyone who has been adjudicated “mentally defective” or has been institutionalized is entered into the database and is also prohibited from purchasing firearms.
Let’s look at the seller’s side of the equation. Only those holding a Federal Firearms License may sell guns commercially. Information on each firearm they receive must be entered into a logbook, including to whom it’s sold. Logbooks are subject to random inspection by the ATF. Data entry discrepancies may lead to revocation of the license and felony prosecution. If the gun store goes out of business or is sold, these logs and all ATF forms are transferred to the federal government — a form of gun registration.
But can’t prohibited people buy firearms at gun shows through some loophole? No. Gun show promoters rent venues leasing space to license holders, who are bound by all state and federal laws. The location of a legal sale doesn’t matter. Private sales at gun shows, allowed only among residents of the same state, typically comprise hunting rifles, shotguns and WW II relics. Miniscule numbers of criminals obtain firearms at shows.
Gun control measures have massively failed because criminals don’t obey the law in the first place and typically obtain guns through burglary or theft. This also renders efforts to mark and trace guns to criminals a failure.
Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock passed many background checks to obtain more than 40 guns. With no criminal or mental health record, he couldn’t be denied from purchasing them.
These incidents, like suicides, occur most often because those who knew something said nothing. Reinforcing failed gun control laws will do nothing to address this reality. It will only burden and endanger those who abide by the law.
Larry “Lorenzo” Swickard serves on the board of directors of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance.