The Mayors Against Illegal Guns have released their report A Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns. The chapter headings sound sensible enough: Improving Gun Background Checks, Policing Problematic Gun Shows (as opposed to non-problematic gun shows), ATF Resources and Structure, More Effective Crime Gun Tracing; More Effective Partnerships Among Government, Law Enforcement, Community Groups, and Responsible Gun Industry Representatives (as opposed to irresponsible gun industry representatives); and Enforcement of Existing Laws on Especially Dangerous Firearms (as opposed to normally dangerous firearms). But a closer inspection reveals that the Mayors have a hard-on for gun dealers rather than, say, criminals who use guns. More to the point, they never met a problem they didn’t want to solve with more of your money. (Surprise!) Where to start? How about the first two recommendations?
1. Notify federal, state, and local law enforcement when someone fails a background check (FBI, ATF);
2. Prioritize rejected applications for investigation and prosecution (DOJ, FBI, ATF)
The Mayors reckon that a failed background check indicates that some bad shit is about to go down. At which point every law enforcement official and agency extant should be informed so they can swing into action and . . . prevent crime. Seriously; the Mayors recommend that a failed purchase by a person convicted of domestic violence. for example, should trigger an investigation by the FBI, Justice Department, ATF (they forgot the E) and local police. How these agencies would liaise and what they’d actually do with the information is left unspecified.
The Mayors say that felons accounted for 60 percent of 87,474 failed background checks in 2007. If their “red flag” proposal was adopted, there would be 54,484.4 new investigations—which could well turn-up relatively minor criminal infractions. Except for the fact that the felons in question ticked the box on form 4473 which states they are not felons. Which is a felony. That the Mayors believe should be prosecuted. In some cases. Which they can’t name until they have more data. That the Justice Department should create and mine. At your expense.
The Mayors are also a bit unclear about what law enforcement should do in the case of mental health related rejections. But they think state mental health authorities and the FBI should be informed of a failed firearms background check so that they can do something. You know; given the “events” at Virginia Tech.
No question: if the feds go after frustrated gun buyers as the Mayor suggest, fewer felons would attempt to buy a gun. But isn’t that a case of the drunk looking for his keys under a streetlamp simply because the light’s better? As the Mayors admit, they have no idea how many of these failed buyers go on to commit gun crimes.
Any such failed background check smack-down would deter some law-abiding citizens from buying a gun; they’d be afraid that even a minor criminal offense would disqualify them from gun ownership and invite prosecution. Whether that’s an acceptable side-effect depends on your perspective on gun control.
And then there’s the issue of the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List. As we’ve reported before, the government admits that there are over a million “false positives” on the list. There are no published guidelines for qualification nor any efficient way for an innocent citizen to remove themselves from the list. The paranoid vigilant amongst us can imagine a nightmare scenario: the FBI widens its definition of “terrorist” (Tea Party anyone?), then knocks down the door of anyone on the list who attempts to purchase a gun.
That said, it would be a mistake to think that the Mayors have legal gun owners in their sites. It’s the gun dealers—and gun shows—that draw their fire.
7. Notify dealers stripped of their licenses that they will continue to be “engaged in the business” if they dispose of inventory in significant quantities for profit (DOJ, ATF)
That’s some majorly obtuse wording. Drilling down (I won’t bore you with the text), the Mayors don’t want de-frocked, federally licensed firearms dealers to sell their remaining stock as a private citizens. The Mayors’ report cites a situation where this occurred, where 700 guns were sold privately. But really, is this such an important loophole? How many of those guns were used in crimes? And once the excommunicated dealer’s inventory is gone, they can no longer purchase weapons from manufacturers.
The report’s main theme overshadows these relatively minor matters: money. The Mayors call for a big ass hike in the number of federales dealing with guns, including a new Interstate Firearms Trafficking Unit run by a Deputy Chief of Firearms Trafficking at ATF (no E). And they want more money for the entire agency. A chart reveals that the ATF’s budget has “only” increased 28 percent from 2001 to 2008. Poor bastards.
The Mayors want another $53 million for the ATF (no E) to hire another 250 agents so they can inspect every gun dealer in the U.S. at least once every three years. Project Gunrunner—targeting the illegal firearms trade with Mexico—should be blessed with an additional $39.5 million (not $40m).
And here’s one we (well someone) fought earlier: the Mayors want to reinstate the ban against imported non-sporting firearms. More than any other specific recommendation, this is the one that reveals that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns is, fundamentally, a political beast. The ban they seek to enforce applies only to imported “military style” weapons. Surely, they’d want to ban ALL “assault rifles.” Why (i.e. how) can they justify the distinction? Watch this:
A 2008 Associated Press story indicated that AK-variant military-style rifles traced to crimes within the United States increased from 1,140 in 1993 to 8,547 in 2007. The majority of these weapons are manufactured outside the United States . . . [citation required]
GAO has reported that 29 percent of the guns recovered from crimes in Mexico were imported into the United States – many in violation of the ban – and then sold by licensed dealers in the U.S. . . .
The ATF should also evaluate whether any additional firearms, such as the FN57, an imported handgun hailed for its ability to puncture bullet proof vests, ought to be added to the non-sporting purpose list.
Are there any American handguns whose ordinance can penetrate “bullet-proof” vests? Of course not. And how about those nasty imported guns that gun dealers export to Mexico—ignoring the 71 percent of guns used in Mexican crimes that weren’t imported from outside the U.S. (the majority of which were probably made in the U.S.)? Never mind. If one innocent Mexican can be saved from a gun crime by an enlarged American federal law enforcement effort, then it will all be worth it.
As I stated at the outset, the Mayors say sweet FA about attacking the problem of gun crime from the criminal side. Their blueprint is an awful landing at the wrong airport. It assumes that the best way to stop criminals from getting guns is to restrict their access to legal guns, and monitor ALL gun sales to head off their purchases at the pass.
In fact, criminals tend to use stolen guns for their activities (weird that). So how about trying to restrict the number of guns that enter the black market by offering a tax break for anyone who buys a gun safe? Or streamlining efforts to enforce existing laws against illegal guns by, gulp, getting rid of the ATFE?
Of course, those proposals come from the perspective of someone who fully accepts legal private gun ownership, believes that punishment is a deterrent and sees the practical advantages of small government (cost, speed, efficiency). Which is not a perspective shared by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns.