So in my previous post about background checks, I provided a sampling of national polling showing support by gun owners and non gun owners for requiring buyers of guns to undergo background checks. As it happens, many people think that these background checks are already occurring and when informed otherwise, are surprised. Once educated about the lack of background checks on all gun sales, the public is generally in support of provisions to close this private seller loophole. Many of these sales, of course, occur at gun shows. Some are private sales that happen through on-line sales, at estate sales or auctions or at kitchen tables. So the problem here is that some people have to have background checks and others do not, depending on the venue and the seller. This creates a system of "loopholes" to the intent of the Brady Law which was to make sure that buyers of guns who should not be able to have access to them are prevented from getting them. Since the Brady Law was passed, close to 2 million people have been stopped from buying guns from licensed sellers. These would be felons, domestic abusers, minors, drug abusers, those who are adjudicated mentally ill and others.
Now that gun shows are known to have a percentage of private sellers whose sales could be to anyone of a number of prohibited purchasers, we have a problem. The pro gun folks don't believe that guns sold at gun shows are used in crimes so therefore, we should not put any restrictions on those private sales. On the face of it, this just not make sense. If a number of guns sold at gun shows are sold without background checks by private sellers ( estimated to be about 25-40% of total sellers on average at gun shows), how could it be assumed that these guns would not be used in crimes? The onus should be on the gun guys to prove that these privately sold guns do not end up being used to shoot someone. The law of averages alone would find it unbelievable that if a certain number of guns purchased from licensed dealers are used in crimes ( as gun traces prove) then a certain percentage of guns sold by private sellers would also be used in shooting crimes. The ATF monitors licensed sellers, though not often enough due to lack of personnel and funding, but there is no requirement to monitor unlicensed sellers. Since they are not monitored, how do we know who gets the guns sold by them? There are no records of sale. If the guns sold by private sellers were sold only to people who could pass background checks, there would be a better way to find out if they are, indeed, used in crimes. At that point, the seller's practices concerning to whom they sell could be called into question. Is that private seller selling to felons or domestic abusers often? Does the seller have reason to believe the person buying is a prohibited purchaser but sells to them anyway? If you look at some of the videos below, you will hear and see private sellers selling without even checking a photo I.D. and certainly not interested in the status of the buyer. Follow the money. If a sale can be made, it's good.
People who should not have guns get them anyway at gun shows in states that allow sales with no background checks from private sellers. There have been bills in both houses of Congress to close this loophole. This would not affect law abiding gun owners but the gun lobby is against the bills anyway. I am befuddled at the fierce opposition to a bill designed to protect future victims of shootings. It does not make common sense to be opposed to these bills. Who is protected by opposing such bills? That is an important question. It seems to me that the wrong folks are protected by just enforcing the laws already on the books. We have only a few federal gun laws in America. There is a confusing "witch's brew" of state gun laws making it more difficult to prevent illegal trafficking of guns from a state with laxer provisions to a state with stricter provisions. It makes it more difficult for the ATF and for Law Enforcement. To simplify the system, one federal law to prevent private sellers from selling their guns to prohibited purchasers would make it more difficult for criminals and others to "legally" get guns.
I have posted before about the numerous hidden camera videos and studies about this private seller loophole. They are debunked by the gun lobby even though the evidence is there for all to see. Below is a list of the studies and videos. A few days ago, I met Omar Samaha at the Mayors Against Illegal Guns event in Minneapolis. He is a soft spoken young man who is touring with the fix gun checks truck. Omar's sister, Reema, was murdered in the Virginia Tech shootings. The shooter, Seung -Hui Cho, should have been prevented from buying his guns through a licensed seller, but he wasn't. Why not?
A provision in the Brady law is that those who are adjudicated mentally ill should have their names sent to the NICS. It turns out that those names are not being reported. Shamefully we have allowed mentally unstable people to get guns legally from licensed dealers because of flaws in our system. President George W. Bush signed a law that now requires states to send the names. Are those names in the system? Not really. Only about half of the names that should be there are now in the system. There is a cost to doing this and system must be set up in each state to determine how those names will get to NICS. There is also a cost with potential loss of life if the names are not there- a cost we don't often take seriously.
Back to my first sentence. The Minneapolis Star Tribune posted this story about the event at the Minneapolis City Hall yesterday. Here is a photo of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak speaking at the event showing the many victims and others in the crowd. If you look closely, you can see me standing to the left of the Mayor as I get ready to speak about how sometimes law abiding gun owners shoot people. My sister's shooter, her estranged husband, was not adjudicated mentally ill nor had he been arrested for domestic abuse prior to the shooting. We learned after the shooting about his undiagnosed depression and other mental illness. He would not have been a prohibited purchaser of a gun. But too many other cases end in death when an abuser has a combination of mental illness, anger, loss of power and control in a divorce or other issues. If local police are aware of these domestic abusers, ( if arrested or served with an order for protection) at least in Minnesota, they would be denied a permit to acquire a handgun or assault weapon because local law enforcement would know of those arrested for domestic abuse or those who are dangerously mentally ill; these names take a while to be reported to NICS. This is the value of having local law enforcement involved in background checks that can catch certain people that would not be caught by licensed firearms dealers in a routine background check.
As an aside, before I go on, it is important to point out that some of the 550 Mayors who have signed on to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns effort have been threatened and some have decided to leave the organization because of the push back they have received from the uber powerful NRA and it's many members. This Lewiston, Maine Mayor has spoken out about a letter he received from a Patriots' group in Florida, "threatening" him with making sure he is not re-elected. So now people in Florida get to decide who is the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine? This brave mayor spoke out against the tactics of the group saying: " Mayor Rybak has been brave enough to stand up for what's right and, I'm sure, has taken some flack for his positions. St. Paul Mayor Coleman and my own Mayor Don Ness are also brave men for standing with the victims and the right thing to do. One shouldn't have to be brave to take this stand. It is common sense and basically a no-brainer.
But I digressed. I brought a bell to the event yesterday. It is a bell that our local chapter has used for many years now to honor lost lives due to bullets. We have the only memorial bell garden dedicated to victims of gun violence in the country. It is in a beautiful sight above the Lakewalk on Lake Superior. There is a photo of it on my blog home page. Many people have rung the bell there in somber events to memorialize a lost loved one or friend. It is a meaningful moment for many who have not done anything like this before. The bell I brought to the MAIG event is from the original Bell Campaign, formed to support gun violence victims. Yesterday, many who had never spoken out before or had come to a public event rang the bell and said the name of the person they honored. Tears streamed down the cheeks of some who said the name of a brother, sister, father, son, daughter, friend, etc. The mother of a fallen police officer, St. Paul Sgt. Gerald Vick, gunned down on a St. Paul street, hugged me as she said his name and rang the bell. A young boy stepped forward to ring the bell in memory of his Dad. I remember his face as he remembered his father. That is what this is all about.
As promised, here is a list of just some of the hidden camera videos, studies and reports about background checks and the private seller loophole:
- New England Journal of Medicine research article about gun shows and gun laws.
- Wikepedia article about gun laws and gun shows/background checks
- Video of Colin Goddard's hidden camera visits to gun shows in several states in the U.S. (summer of 2009)
- video of New York city sponsored hidden camera investigations of gun shows in the U.S.
- ABC's 20/20 show follows the brother(Omar Samaha) of Virginia Tech shooting victim, Reema Samaha, as he walks into a Virginia gun show and purchases 10 guns in one hour without a background check.
- Virginia Tech shooting survivor Colin Goddard and his father, Andy Goddard, blog about the private seller loophole
- ABC news follow-up story(4/17/10) to Omar Samaha's gun show purchases at a Richmond, Virginia gun show on a 20/20 show expose of gun shows
- This University of California Davis also did an undercover video of gun shows all over the country.
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns goes to an Arizona gun show in January, 2011, after the Tucson shootings to show the activity at a typical gun show