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.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Follow up- ATF and crime gun traces

It is coincidental that, during the time when I have been going back and forth with commenters on my blog about what's legal and what's not,  several articles appeared in the Washington Post regarding corrupt gun dealers and the ATF's ability to trace crime guns. This analysis shows how influential the gun lobby has been in actually stopping the ATF and law enforcement from keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them. While saying they don't want those people to have guns, they do everything possible to stop laws that would do that very thing. In the same issue, this article about one Maryland gun dealer whose guns have been involved in 2500 crimes.

A quote from the last article linked above sums up the problems with crime guns in our country: " Tracing brings into sharp relief the fact that virtually all crime guns are first sold as new weapons by a licensed dealer to someone who cleared a background check. The criminal demand for weapons - especially new ones that cannot be tied to previous crimes - puts dealers at the front line of crime prevention." I have pretty much said the same in my previous posts but have met with skepticism by my commenters.

Here are photos accompanying another article from the Washington Post about tracing crime guns to Virginia gun dealers. This article about Virginia gun dealers and crime gun traces is similar to the above linked article. If this is happening in these two states, it is surely happening all over the country. It points to a problem with gun sales that sometimes lead to crimes. Not all dealers are careful and some actually contribute to the problem of guns used in crime. So, what to do about this? Tracing crime guns back to the original sale, if it took place at a FFL can lead to finding gun dealers who are not following the law. This then, can lead to reforms, fines or perhaps shutting down a dealer who is not following a law already on the books. This should be a no brainer. 

Here is a chart that shows some data about "time to crime" for guns bought legally. And  this article in the series talks about how the politics of guns and gun laws have actually led to less information to help with crime gun tracing. To continue with the series, the Washington Post writers posted this article about how the ATF is hampered in it's investigations by Congress and the gun lobby. When they are so under staffed that they can only inspect each gun dealer once in 8 years, we have a problem. That is by design of the NRA and it's well funded supporters in our Congress. The editorial in today's Washington Post is clear about what the problem is and what the solution should be: " Licensed gun dealers cannot be held liable for crimes committed with guns they sell. But they should be held to the toughest standards possible to ensure lawful sales. Those with a high number of "crime gun" sales should be inspected frequently, and penalties for dealers who allow illegal transactions should be swift and stiff. That isn't likely to happen, though, as long as the public is kept in the dark about the extent of the problem and who the wayward dealers are." The editorial also suggests that the law protecting the privacy of "bad apple" gun dealers is dangerous for public safety and should be repealed. I couldn't agree more.

The public deserves better than this from Congress and the President. We expect that places where we buy items we use in our lives are reputable and are not breaking the law knowingly when they sell us goods. That is what consumer protection is all about as well as safety. We expect that the restaurants where we eat are regularly inspected so that we don't get sick on the food. If they are not, it is made public and the restaurants are shut down while the problem is fixed. Why not for guns which we know are designed as weapons to kill. Tough questions need to be asked of our elected leaders. Who will ask? What will Congress do to make sure that a small percentage of gun dealers don't sell guns to prohibited purchasers? It's time to make everyone accountable for this travesty. Lives depend on it. It only makes common sense.


  1. Ahh, the annual "lets repeal the Tiahrt Amendment" drive. Short answer? No. Longer answer? A trace is not a crime. Just because my gun gets traced by the police does not mean that it has been involved in a crime.

    When I lived in PA, there was a law that required Pennsylvania Court buildings to have lockers available to the public since it was illegal to carry inside courts. I went to jury duty, lawfully armed. The Sheriff's office kindly stored my pistol, in accordance with the law. They had possession of the firearm for about 4 hours, and if you think for one minute that they didn't take the opportunity to run a trace on it then you don't know cops.

    Should the guy who sold me the pistol be subjected to lawsuits and harrassment just because the cops felt like tracing my pistol that day? A trace is not a crime. Keep repeating that until you understand it. A trace is not a crime.

  2. That sounds pretty paranoid, Sean.

  3. One thing worth mentioning is that having a lot of crime guns traced back is not necessarily an indictment of the dealer. A dealer who operates near DC and Baltimore is naturally going to have more “crime guns” than a dealer who operates in Bismarck, ND. The article did mention that this particular dealer was high for the area, so an investigation is certainly warranted- but should be conclusive that laws were violated before action is taken. Else this could turn into a witch hunt that ultimately drives dealers out of urban areas. That is not what we want, is it?

  4. Point well taken, TS. But these articles show a problem that needs to be addressed. The ATF is just doing it's job as it is supposed to. That shouldn't be construed as a witch hunt unless there is proof that the ATF is undertaking one.

  5. In Texas, if you are stopped for a traffic violation the police can disarm you for their safety.

    It is common for the firearms of those Concealed Handgun License holders to be traced.....'just to make sure they aren't stolen' of course.

    If a firearm is used defensively to stop a crime, that firearm is traced.

    "A trace is not a crime" -- it is not paranoia just the simple truth

  6. Problem is these high crime gun trace rates in VA are not being compared to Bismark ND, they are much higher than similar stores JUST DOWN THE STREET! A trace is not a crime, but having 50 times the crime guns traced to your store compared to a similar store nearby says that something is wrong with your business practices.
    If selling guns that ended up in crime was a matter of luck then they rates would not be so incredibly diferent in one geographic area.

  7. "several articles appeared in the Washington Post regarding corrupt gun dealers and the ATF's ability to trace crime guns. This analysis shows how influential the gun lobby has been in actually stopping the ATF and law enforcement from keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them."

    Except, of course, that that analysis shows how effective the gun lobby has been keeping trace data out of the hands of the media and anti-gun groups. The Tiahrt amendment doesn't limit access to the data by the ATF or law enforcement during the course of an investigation.

  8. Considering, anonymous, how many times police officers are shot or threatened when they make a traffic stop, it seems like a good idea to me to disarm people at traffic stops. Who wants to be shot?

  9. Another comment to Sean about paranoia. It seems to me that the better idea when you had jury duty was to just leave your gun at home since you knew that your gun would be taken from you at the courthouse. Then you wouldn't have to concoct a story about the clerk tracing your gun while it was stored in a locker.

  10. Jeez japete, no need to be insulting. I follow the law. I insist that the police follow the law as well. The law in PA is provide storage. In Lehigh County Courthouse there are no "lockers" as such. The Sheriff just takes your gun and stores it in his evidence locker or something. I didn't exactly follow them back into the Sheriff's office to find out where they put it. It certainly wasn't locked in a lockbox like the time I went to Beaver County Courthouse.

    Of course you would like me to leave my gun at home. You can't see any reason to carry in the first place. You reject armed self defense on first principles, so you can't imagine why I don't.

    Keep saying it, A trace is not a crime. Eventually you will understand.

  11. Why did you assume that the Sheriff traced your gun?

  12. Because in PA, every time a cop gets his hot little hands on a gun that isn't his, he grabs the phone and calls the State Police to check the "purchase database." You will have to trust that I know a great deal more about police activities in the State I used to live in. Cops trace guns. It's what they do.

    I think that that PA law should be the standard around the country. If you declare a place to be a "gun free zone" you should have to have armed security and metal detectors, and you should provide lockers for the people who bring their guns. It's not really expensive to do. Most courts even disarm the police, so they have to have lockers for them.

    I'm still a little put out that the Deputy Sheriff gave me back my gun in a plastic shopping bag. You know if I got it back in a shopping bag that it was sitting on a shelf in that bag, not in a separate locker like it should have been. Cheapskates.

  13. What kind of traces are we talking about here? ATF traces actually require calling up a dealer (who is probably closed) and having him pull a 4473. An actual trace, if you're lucky, takes hours. More realistically, it'll take a day or so. I can promise you police aren't running traces on guns willy nilly, because ATF would throw a fit, since it takes resources to do so. In addition, I believe the trace form requires you to indicate what active investigation your trace is in reference to.

    Now, if you mean trace as in, run a serial number through the PA State Police registry of handguns, or wait, I'm sorry, "records of sale," that's a different animal. Those records have been computerized since the State Police started ignoring the part of PA law prohibiting firearms registration years ago.

  14. Sean is correct that running guns through the state police regis... err... record of sale database is common. There have been more than a few cases of people having guns seized because the police mistakenly believe it is a registry, and when they ran the gun, say, at a traffic stop, it wasn't in the database. There are a number of reasons this could be the case. None of my significant other's firearms are in that database because she brought them with her when she moved here. I have a few that aren't in it because I'm a Federal Firearms Licensee, and am therefore exempt from the State Police record of sale requirements for firearms I get with my license rather than through retail. Some local police that don't understand the system or know the law often assume if it's not in it, it was illegally obtained, since private sales of handguns in this state are unlawful.

  15. Again Sebastian is reasonable and Sean is not.

    I would say it's not fair to compare the total number of guns used in crime from one gun shop to another because one place can sell 100 times more than the other. Like any other stats, this should be done per 100 sold or per 1,000 sold.

    I also agree with the pro-gun crowd when they keep pointing out that the gun dealer cannot be held responsible for what the buyer does. Even though I believe there are way too many FFL guys who turn a blind eye on suspicious gun buyers, I think our focus needs to be more on the straw buyer. Saying gun dealers need to be held to the highest standards is all well and good, but in the final analysis, we still have to deal with the purchaser.

    That's why I've devised the perfect plan.

  16. japete, your last blog post dealt with gunshows, which provide less than 0.7% of all guns used by criminals (according to the FBI anyways). Now you are blaming FFL's and people who pass a background check for the roughly 10% of firearms they sell that end up used in a crime (not a trace, an actual crime).

    None of this deals with the largest segment of how criminals get their firearms, either by theft or the "black market". If you want to do the most good, go after the criminals who traffic guns, not FFL's who jump through the hoops to do their business legally.

  17. We need to stop crime guns all the way around, however they are getting their guns. There is no reason not to go after illegal activity at gun dealers and at gun shows. If crime guns are coming from these venues, we need to stop them. We also need to work on how to reduce the stolen guns and other ways that criminals and others get their guns. Why not? As the article says and as I have been saying, all guns start out as legal. So where do they start out? At gun dealers, of course.

  18. More "common sense" from the Brady Bunch.


  19. While I think these are not necessarily a bad thing: " If they have been arrested or convicted of almost any "violation," in any state; having a "poor driving history"; having been fired for "circumstances that demonstrate lack of good judgment"; having "failed to pay legally required debts"; being deemed to lack "good moral character"; or if any other information demonstrates "other good cause for the denial of the permit."", I agree that the proposal needs to be fleshed out more to address some concerns. If you have been arrested for other violations, I would question whether you should be carrying a gun around with you. We want to have law abiding citizens being responsible here. That's what you guys keep saying on my blog. If you are law abiding, you won't need to worry. To me, law abiding means you don't do something illegal. The use of the words "good moral character" is vague and I agree that that could be open to interpretation.

  20. Japete,

    You are factually correct when you state that *all guns start out as legal*. In that sense, I am also factually correct in stating that *all knives start out as legal*, *all cars start out as legal*, *all baseball bats start out as legal*, etc etc ad infinitum.

    Trying to hold the retail merchant responsible is a VERY slippery slope, because, in the eyes of the Law, guns are a mercantile product just as anything else is a mercantile product. Be careful what you wish for...if a national database of gun serial numbers to owners ever gets established, AND passes Supreme Court Scrutiny, then EVERYTHING THAT IS MADE OR SOLD will come under the same product traceability, because once a precedent is established in that vein, shrewd lawyers will run with it. Inexpensive Chinese goods will become VERY expensive, as all the administrative costs associated with following the product traceability laws will be passed to the consumer.

    And what happens if you, Japete, would go to a flea market with stuff that you cleaned out of your basement, attic, or garage, rented a space for a day and sold a set of antique Ginsu kitchen knives to someone who then used one of the knives in the commission of a murder? The *product serial number* would be traced to you (because you LEGALLY bought the set at Bed Bath and Beyond) and the BATFERCK & SPO (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms Explosives Ropes Chains Knives & Sharp Pointy Objects) came after you because you sold a set of knives without properly checking the background of the purchaser to see if he was under medical treatment for a mental illness.

    And no, this isn't *paranoia*, Japete. We have, in our system of jurisprudence, a long standing history of *innocent until proven guilty*. While you, the Brady Campaign, the Million Mom March, and others seem to want to selectively chose who is innocent until PROVEN guilty and who is GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION based simply on a fear of potential lethality of a product, thats not how our laws nor jurisprudence work. The same *innocent until proven guilty* system protects both you, AND a gun store owner from being harassed by an over-zealous gov't.

    And that is how it SHOULD be. Sometimes a bad apple slips through the cracks, but in the greater scheme of our system of Ordered Liberty, that is a very small price to pay to ensure the liberty and freedom of 99% of the rest of the population.

    That, Japete, is where the Gun Rights and the Gun Control sides disagree. Gun Rights advocates believe in Innocent until Proven Guilty along with Individual Liberty and Freedom, whereas Gun Control advocates believe that no one should be trusted to be a law-abiding citizen along with a belief that because a gun is lethal, everyone who has one will, at some point, be tempted to turn that lethality against a fellow human, so by default everyone is guilty until proven innocent.


  21. Anon- " EVERYTHING THAT IS MADE OR SOLD will come under the same product traceability, because once a precedent is established in that vein, shrewd lawyers will run with it. Inexpensive Chinese goods will become VERY expensive, as all the administrative costs associated with following the product traceability laws will be passed to the consumer." Many products already sold can be traced to their owners so that recalls can be made if products are faulty or defective. Cars are one example. Don't you want to know if your car has a manufacturer's defect so that you can take it to the dealer to fix before you die in an accident? The articles clearly state, and I agree, that the dealers should not be held responsible if they didn't do anything illegal. If they knowingly sold to criminals through a straw purchase, and that gun is used to kill someone, then yes, the gun dealer made a fatal error or fatal decision to sell that gun. If one doctor makes a medical error, we don't say all doctors make the same error. It's the same principle. This is to weed out the guys who are flaunting the laws to stop crime and to save lives.

  22. Many products are traceable from manufacturer to retail, and guns certainly are. Almost no products are traceable from manufacturer to buyer... though guns are an exception to that rule, since they can be.

    Recalls are a different beast. I have a Glock that was recalled. They did it by serial number. Tracing wouldn't need to be involved because they know what serial numbers were affected by the recall, and I know the serial number on my gun.

  23. "" If they have been arrested or convicted of almost any "violation," in any state;"

    You do realize that you can be arrested without being guilty of anything, right? Nothing like denying people's constitutional rights based on not actually being convicted of anything...

  24. "If one doctor makes a medical error, we don't say all doctors make the same error."

    I'm glad you brought this up. Doctors in America kill far more people than guns do, through misdiagnosis, malpractice, etc. What do we outlaw or register or regulate to stop this?

  25. The Anonymous who said this is either not reading or not thinking.

    "None of this deals with the largest segment of how criminals get their firearms, either by theft or the "black market"."

    The obvious question is where does the "black market" get its guns? They start out legally owned. More focus on the FFL gun sellers and lots more focus on the gun buyers, that's what we need.

  26. Indeed- thanks, Mike. That is exactly what this is all about.

  27. I just knew that the doctor comment would bring that up. Doctors, of course, are regulated to an extent not seen by the gun industry. They have made medical mistakes which lead to deaths and that is a terrible thing. There have been several recent cases of doctors who have lost their licenses in my area for making medical malpractice mistakes. That's a good thing. The Board that oversees Physicians is working on these issues. Who is working on the same for guns? That's what I'm all about.

  28. That most guns start out as a legal product is unremarkable. Actually, not all of them do. Depending on the part of the world you live in they may be manufactured illegally. Your basic semi-automatic pistol is 100 year old technology at this point. Any reasonable machine shop could turn out a steady stream of simple pistols if they had the inclination.

    I guess what I don't understand is, we have products out there which don't start on the legal market, like cocaine and marijuana, yet these products are readily available to criminals for distribution to users. What makes guns a special case? Why is gun prohibition going to be more effective than drug prohibition?

  29. How many illegal guns are non-brand, Sebastian? Seriously, there is pharmceutical grade cocaine, which I believe is made by Merck (or whatever its current incarnation may be) and contraband cocaine.

    Most crime guns are name brands, not no-name.

    You might have a point if the crime guns were obviously make in clendestine factories, but they aren't. It's far less expensive to buy them from legal sources and sell them on the black market.

  30. "Who is working on the same for guns?"


  31. I'll toss in the Purdy argument as well. As you know British Purdy Shotguns are handmade: they are expensive and take forever to acquire because of that. Any homemade contraband firearm would most likely have the same problem since they would be handmade rather than mass produced.

    Thus, it is much easier to divert the lower priced, mass produced legal firearms to the black market than have a cottage industry making crime guns.

  32. If someone *really* wanted to make a gun, they could. Here's a gun that was made *in* a German prison:

    Here's a gun made from a staple gun:

    Here's a submachine gun made from parts available at the hardware store:

    Where guns are outlawed, people will just make guns (and ammo) in their basements.

  33. Yes, I know people who make guns. Luckily they are good guys who are law abiding. So if we require background checks on all gun sales at gun shows, maybe some people will resort to making guns. But buying one is sure as heck a lot quicker and easier.

  34. japete,

    Buying one is not always quicker and easier. I can make a bangstick out of two pieces of pipe, one pipe cap, a machine screw, and some JBWeld. This is a quick and dirty firearm designed to be shoved into the gut your victim to basically disembowel them with birdshot.

    One trip to the hardware store is a heckuva lot easier than filling out a 4473 and or forking over a couple hundred bucks.

    Of course there are no records kept for blackpowder firearms, even though they have killed more Americans than any other weapon.

  35. Are you referring to the Revolutionary War?

  36. Revolutionary War, War of 1812, various Indian Wars, the Mexican American War (first one) and the Civil War.

    What makes a blackpowder firearm any different in lethality from a modern firearm? Only rate of fire (and in the case of black powder revolvers, not even then).

  37. "Of course there are no records kept for blackpowder firearms, even though they have killed more Americans than any other weapon."

    Yeah, guys who rely on anachronistic writings and twist their meaning to justify things are naturally going to total up the blackpowder deaths of centuries past to win an argument taking place in 2010.

  38. If we want to go backwards in time for stats concerning gun deaths, we can go to other statistics. In the 18-year period between 1979 and 1997 (651,697), than were killed in battle in all wars since 1775 (650,858). If we add in the numbers since 1997-2010, more would be added to both totals. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken over 4000,( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war) lives of military personnel. In that same time period, about 12 plus years, about 30,000 people total ( suicide, homicide, accidental deaths) a year have been lost. If we use just the homicide figures, it's about 12,000 plus or minus per year. So then, 12,000 times 12= I come up with about 144,000 plus or minus total homicide gun deaths in that period of time. Numbers are numbers but these are human lives, of course. The numbers are staggering. That's why something should be done to change the numbers and bring them down.