Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

What's everyone so afraid of?

For months now, activists in the "gun control" movement have been writing about the lack of backbone by the Administration in not appointing an ATF Director. This position has been vacant now for several years. As this editorial in the New York Times reminds us, President Obama and Congress are spineless when it comes to dealing with the NRA. Neither arm of the government is afraid of many other sorts of challenges.  But putting the name of someone up for nomination to head the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency? -not so much.


One does have to wonder how the NRA can intimidate our Congress and Administration to this degree. Is it that this group has this much actual power or is that they have convinced the public and elected officials that they do? What happens when someone stands up to them? Not much really. They like to think that people don't get elected if they challenge the "common " wisdom that you don't mess with the NRA. They would be wrong. In the last election, the NRA spent millions to go after then candidate Obama without success. The same is true with the other national races. In the last two Supreme Court Justice nomination processes, the NRA threatened to, and did, "score" the votes. This means that they are keeping track of the votes of the Senators so they can use the vote against them at election time or, more likely, intimidate them into voting against Justices Sotomayor Kagan. It didn't work.


We need a strong ATF. Here is a good example of how the ATF works to trace crime guns and find criminals. Some who have posted comments to my blog insist that background checks on private sales will lead to gun registration and the government knowing who they are and how many guns they have. Far from that scenario is the one in the story linked above. Many crime guns are purchased through "straw purchases". A quote from the article sets the scene: " The younger Wortham pulled his gun and identified himself as an officer, according to police.In seconds, gunfire erupted on the quiet street as the Floyds and the Wortham apparently exchanged fire. One of the men in the car, Paris McGee, 20, was also charged with firing a gun, according to court records.

Wortham and Brian Floyd, 20, were fatally shot. McGee and Toyious Taylor, 30, screeched off, striking Wortham and dragging him about 30 feet, according to police.The Smith & Wesson was left at the scene. Within about seven hours, using the gun's unique serial number, a federal firearms trace led investigators to Elliott's purchase at Ed's, which had been reported to ATF as a matter of routine."

Several things stand out here. First of all, Wortham was a police officer who had a gun and when he pulled it, the men in the car fired back, killing him. He did manage to shoot one of the attackers and kill him as well. In this case, a gun for self defense did not help save the officer's life. Secondly, in 7 hours, the ATF had traced the gun to the pawn shop where it was purchased by a straw purchaser for a man who was illegally trafficking guns. One of his guns ended up in the hands of the wrong people and led to the death of the officer. Now several people have been charged with a crime and are serving time. The ones who were "innocent" were still complicit, knowingly or unknowingly. And this is how many guns make their way around and around and around, from Mississippi to Chicago in this case.

So to those who think that background checks on private sales of guns at gun shows are a bad idea, one of them could actually lead to stopping someone from providing guns to those who should not have them. The ATF is not after innocent and law abiding citizens with guns. They are underfunded and without a Director. It's hard enough to do their jobs effectively and efficiently in the name of public safety. Is that actually what the gun lobby wants? And, if so, why? The case in the story linked above shows how important this agency is. Congress and the President need to find the will and the backbone to appoint and approve of a new Director. Lives depend on it.

21 comments:

  1. You write: "The ATF is not after innocent and law abiding citizens with guns."

    I'd be interested to hear you explain away the ATF's long and well-documented history of harassing innocent gun owners and finessing regulatory interpretations so as to put people engaged in otherwise-lawful activities on the wrong side of federal firearms laws.

    Did you know that, according to ATF, if you merely have the component parts necessary to assemble a working machine gun, then you're in violation of federal firearms law even if you never actually assemble it, have no intention of assembling it, and are using the parts for other things?

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  2. I'd like to see some documented examples of what you are claiming, Brett.

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  3. I think it sucks that the NRA wields as much power as they do. They have about 3 million members but that only represents 1% of the USA total population. I believe there is a statistic somewhere that shows less than 1/2 of the US households even own a gun.

    Maybe it's time for someone to start the "Anti-NRA" group? I'm not talking about the Brady group or any of the other anti-violence groups, I'm talking about a group that is simply against the NRA having too much control over politicians. How can "the people" ever get what they want when you have one special interest group inserting language into non-related bills and trying to veto Supreme Court nominees?

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  4. Go for it. I'd be happy if somone started such a group. Let me know.

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  5. Some who have posted comments to my blog insist that background checks on private sales will lead to gun registration and the government knowing who they are and how many guns they have.

    As we discussed in those threads, my problem with private-sale background checks as currently packaged is that our current trace system needlessly includes information that makes it trivially easy for government to compile a registry (leaving their unverifiable promise not to as the only safeguard against it), and that this concern can be easily addressed by removing those questions from the process.

    Your example demonstrates exactly why those questions are so unnecessary. The FBI was able to trace the gun in question through the normal channels (ask the manufacturer for the wholesaler, ask the wholesaler for the dealer, ask the dealer for the purchaser) in a mere seven hours.

    There is simply no legitimate purpose for the questions about the gun's make, model, and serial number on the 4437 form used to process background checks. If the Bradies really, really think that background checks on private sales are a crucial public safety measure, they should be offering painless compromises like this one in the interest of getting those checks.

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  6. They have about 3 million members but that only represents 1% of the USA total population.

    Four million, is my understanding. Either way, one percent of the total population is an enormous membership for a political lobbying organization. Those are the kind of numbers the NAACP, NOW, and HRC can only dream about.

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  7. Registration and licensing is definitely the way to go. Since all the guns now in criminal hands started out lawfully owned at some point, the trick is to encourage those lawful owners to hang on to them and ensure they do not flow over to the dark side.

    Once the flow is significantly diminished, we'll just have to worry about the dangerous characters who own guns and have not yet been caught doing anything wrong.

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  8. Did you know that, according to ATF, if you merely have the component parts necessary to assemble a working machine gun, then you're in violation of federal firearms law even if you never actually assemble it, have no intention of assembling it, and are using the parts for other things?

    That's not according to the ATF. That's according to Congress. It's not the ATF that made that determination, it's Congress:

    The term shall also include [...] any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.

    ATF may construct this overly broadly in some cases, but they didn't invent that out of thin air.

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  9. japete: Google is your friend. Seriously. Search term "ATF abuses", and just read.

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  10. Thanks for that tip. I checked and the first entry on the Google search for ATF abuses is a website that is someone's personal website and not anything based on fact. The "photo" on the page shows a bare breasted woman wrapped on the bottom half of her body with a sheet and a guy dressed in military garb pointing as assault type weapon at her neck. She has a fake sort of grimace on her blindfolded face. Yes- this must happen every day in our country.

    The other sites to which you refer are equally slanted. Send me something else.

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  11. Guess the imagery of Lady Liberty being abused escaped your grasp.

    Amazing how the stories you point to and the conclusions you draw aren't slanted but every website shown under the ATF Abuses heading is slanted.

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  12. Wow Joan,

    You completely miss the point.

    It is perfectly okay for you to use sites or stories that are 'slanted' but you dismiss out of hand any site that doesn't conform to your world view because that site is 'slanted'.

    It's called 'bias confirmation'. An inability to process or accept information that does not support your position.

    What criteria does a site or story have to meet in order not to be 'slanted'?

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  13. Joan, your standards on "slant" do seem pretty odd.

    Does this mean that you won't even look at the information on Brady pages, because they're biased toward gun control? Or just the Brady pages with melodramatic images of doe-eyed children or of guns shot to look menacing?

    Very often it's advocacy groups that document and publish information on government abuses. Refusing to even consider or discuss the information because of "slant" is not entirely reasonable.

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  14. Well guys- I checked more than a few of the sites that popped up under "atf abuses" as someone suggested. The first one was downright ugly and inappropriate for most everyone's taste and I wondered what the point was. So I checked some others and many were opinions about the atf abuses- not facts. There were a few that provided some cases of court decisions that had shown that the ATF had been wrong in charging a dealer or individual. I guess they have been wrong and have not always been perfect. Since the cases were decided against them, it shows that justice was served to those who were wronged. That's a good thing. There are cases about which I have blogged that have shown that the ATF has charged dealers with wrong doing in knowingly selling guns to straw buyers or failing to report "stolen guns" from their inventories when they knew that the guns were sold to people who shouldn't have them- one case that stands out is the D.C. Sniper case where the dealer in Tacoma, Washington failed to report hundreds of "stolen" guns, one of which was used by the shooters in the D.C. case to kill people and cause fear and chaos to many cities near D.C. I don't know if I saw a study by an independent agency or group that showed that the atf has been abusing their power routinely. There was a recent ATF Director who was accused of financial abuses and general bad behavior while serving in his position. I wouldn't support that no matter who the Director is. But I did not come to the conclusion by reading the sites I found that there has been a pattern of abuse of the ATF agents, as some of you have suggested. Perhaps you should have checked out that first site that pops up before you suggested I check it out. If you guys think that the picture shown, as described above, is a good idea to make a point, then we can't even talk about this. I don't believe I was missing a point. Direct me to something that doesn't need to use a naked woman to make a point or whatever the heck that picture was supposed to mean. I am not a prude but I don't believe in using women in that way. It's crude and unnecessary and may lead some men to wrong conclusions. Or is that the point?

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  15. I am not a prude but I don't believe in using women in that way.

    The allegorical image of Liberty as a woman draped in fabric (a stylization of classical dress) is near-universal in the American tradition. Even in the United States, not noted for its sexual license, we've had a bare-breasted liberty on a circulating coin.

    I can't check the site right now, but the Google summary implies that it's the prime source for aggregating complaints about the ATF. I glanced at the page before work this morning and saw the picture you're referring to. I thought it was melodramatic, and don't doubt the page is strongly partisan, but...

    I just loaded the Brady Campaign site, and the entry portal has, front and center, a YouTube video with a grim-looking man waving an AK-47. The main page itself is topped by a banner of a man's hands cuffed behind his back, with lurid splash text calling the ATF reform bill the "DEFORM and DESTRUCTION ACT" (with caps). On just briefly clicking through, I'm also seeing pictures of hands exchanging splayed cash for scary black rifles, "Gun Lobby Efforts" illustrated by a closeup of a man pulling a holsterless gun from the back of his waistband, and a photo of an adorable child reaching up for a gun on a closet shelf.

    Prominent headline text includes moderate, mainstream gun rights positions described as "'Gun Rights' Extremism" (including scorn quotes), and "Guns for Cash! No Background Check, no ID, AND IT'S ALL LEGAL!" (including all-caps). Looking at just one article, I see, among other things, opposition to an "assault weapons" ban (which are meaningless, have long fallen out of favor outside a few anti-gun enclaves, and are probably unconstitutional post-Heller) referred to as "gun craziness".

    If we're going to refuse to look at information on advocacy sites that use melodramatic and partisan imagery and rhetoric, then we must be consistent.

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  16. You must be kidding. The day the Brady Campaign has a photo of a bare breasted woman looking like she is about to be raped is the day I am done with them. " The allegorical image of Liberty as a woman draped in fabric (a stylization of classical dress) is near-universal in the American tradition. Even in the United States, not noted for its sexual license, we've had a bare-breasted liberty on a circulating coin. " What? I don't think so. You must be in some sort of fantasy world. Women can be draped in fabric but not in a sexy pose with bare breasts about to be assaulted in one way or the other by a "stylized" ATF agent dressed in military garb. Give me a break!

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  17. And yes, women, historically, are often pictured or sculpted as voluptuous nudes or as "sirens" distracting to men or as objects of beauty and admiration. That doesn't mean it is necessarily right. But I have seen the "Venus" in the Louvre and it is a work of art to behold. I have seen the "David" in Florence- also a spectacular male nude sculpture not meant to be sexy but as a work of art scultped by a genius. But to picture the so-called Statue of Liberty, if that is what this is supposed to depict, as being under assault by the ATF is pure nonsense and hyperbolic. Yes, the Brady Campaign uses capitol letters to capture attention of the people who look at their site. I suppose all causes do that. And I suppose the NRA never does that. Oh- yes, I forgot about the mailing I received from them erroneously filled with hyperbolic wording and capitol lettering and fear mongering.

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  18. [shrug] I'm sorry the image offends you. Images of Liberty being assaulted by the object of the artist's ire are a common trope in American art. The most recent popular example I can think of is the image of vampire Bush draining her blood. You see "sexy pose". I saw "helpless and under attack". It's melodramatic and poorly executed, but we're still each bringing our own assumptions here.

    I find Brady's images exploitative and manipulative, but that doesn't mean I won't even consider information presented on their pages if you point me there in response to a question I've asked.

    I'll also point out that "You must be in some sort of fantasy world." is an awfully funny way of elevating the discourse above the level of those abusive, demeaning gun rights advocates.

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  19. But to picture the so-called Statue of Liberty, if that is what this is supposed to depict, as being under assault by the ATF is pure nonsense and hyperbolic.

    As is depicting gun owners lobbying their government for redress of grievances with an image of a sloppily-carried gun being drawn, evidently in violence. It's nonsense, hyperbole, and intended to get an emotional response unfavorable to the opposition.

    And I suppose the NRA never does that.

    My point is the exact opposite: _all_ advocacy groups do these things, the NRA most definitely included. I _don't_ regard Brady's silly melodrama as invalidating all information on their site, so I also don't see how the same strategy can render NRA or ATF Abuses unworthy of looking at.

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  20. I would have pursued more information if I hadn't happened upon that one first. And then I took a look at some others that were not presenting me with any particular facts. That first one is offensive. If it is an example of how the gun rights folks want to present their "facts" it's pretty sleazy and anemic. It won't attract too many people to the cause except those who believe that the picture is as you say it is. You would be in the minority.

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