“If we truly want to honor this fallen hero [murdered Plymouth Township police officer Bradley Fox, above] by working to end straw purchases in Pennsylvania, we must take the next step and require gun owners to take responsibility.” So sayeth three members of Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns in a polemic posted at delcotimes.com. Their recommendation sounds reasonable. If the Pennsylvania law required armed Americans to report lost or stolen guns it would help police trace “crime guns” to people who (illegally) bought the firearm for felons and other prohibited persons. Which would help choke-off the supply of guns to criminals. Notice the word “help” . . .
There is no study linking police recovery of [traceable] crime guns to the arrest of straw purchasers to a reduction in gun violence. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But creating a mandatory lost or stolen gun law is a completely unproven strategy for crime reduction. With more than a few downsides.
Before getting into the potential pitfalls of mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns, it’s important to note that any such legislation is illegal under federal law. Specifically, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986. More specifically, Federal Law 18 U.S.C. 926 (2) (a)):
No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.
In layman’s terms, FOPA forbids any local, state or federal agency from maintaining any registry of firearms, firearm owners or firearms transactions.
Yes, this includes information gathered during the FBI’s instant criminal background check of firearms purchasers; that data must be destroyed within 24 hours of collection.
FOPA’s registration prohibition is routinely and systematically violated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and various states (e.g. the ATF’s and CA’s long gun registry), but the law is the law.
And this law was designed to prevent the government from infringing upon American’s constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. The driving principle: if the government knows what guns you have it makes it easy for them to confiscate those firearms.
I have one word for those who dismiss any such concerns as part of a tin foil hat wearing parade: Katrina. In the hurricane’s aftermath, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass directed the police, the U.S. Army National Guard and Deputy U.S. Marshals to seize all civilian-held firearms. And seize them they did.
If the Pennsylvania pols and po-po had a registry of lost and stolen guns—again, an illegal practice under federal law—they could naturally assume that the law-abiding citizens who reported the loss or theft had other firearms. Come confiscation time, should it ever come to that, the boys in blue and their camo-clad cousins would know upon which doors to knock.
That’s big time bad for freedom-loving gun owners—but a bit way out there paranoid for most folks. Despite Katrina, which was, after all, an act of God. So look at it this way . . .
If PA had a law requiring citizens to report all lost and stolen firearms, not reporting them would become a crime. If the police had reason to suspect that a gun owner had failed to report a lost or stolen gun, they could legally coerce the gun owner to prove that his or her guns hadn’t been stolen.
“Were any firearms stolen in the course of this burglary?” With that simple question, the police can put a gun owner in a terrible jam.
If the owner says “no” and guns are later traced back to the crime they’ve broken the law. At the very least, they’ll lose their gun rights forever. Even if no means no, but especially if the answer is yes, the cops can use the law to go on a fishing expedition.
“How many guns do you have? Where do you keep them? Do you have records of their purchase? Can you prove that all of those guns are still in your possession?”
PA’s handgun sales laws are already FOPA-defying: “Private sellers of handguns, and rifles and shotguns under a certain length, must use a licensed seller to conduct the transaction.” And guess what? The PA po-po keep a record of handgun transactions. So . . . “Please show me the following firearms.”
And what if a PA resident loses a gun? Pennsylvania can deny an applicant for a license to carry (LTC) for “presenting a danger to public safety.” If a gun owner tells the police he or she lost a firearm, it’s a prima facie case that they’re a danger to public safety. Same if they don’t report a lost gun. Catch-22.
Although there have been repeated attempts to enact safe [firearms] storage laws in Pennsylvania, there are no such mandates at the moment. Say PA’s governor signed a law requiring legal gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. “Common sense” suggests a safe storage law would also get safe passage. Why not prevent lost and stolen guns?
A safe storage law would allow the authorities to check to see if gun owners were following its provisions. And once government agents get a look at a citizens’ firearms (and make a note of them for their records) it opens the door to. . . taxation. After all, you can’t tax what you don’t see. And you can tax what you do.
Proof of concept? Cook County’s “violence tax.” It’s not going to pass but the fact that an attempt was made shows that such a thing is possible. And once a firearms tax is established, it’s also possible to raise the levy to the point where it becomes prohibitive. A Providence, RI license to carry cost $250 for four years.
See how this works? A seemingly sensible gun control law enables all manner of government abuses, restrictions and, let’s call them what they are, infringements on our Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Upon which our freedom, our entire way of life, depends.
Lost or stolen guns are bad. Lost or stolen liberty is worse. Given that there’s no scientific evidence that a lost or stolen gun law reduces gun crime, given that knowingly selling a firearm to a prohibited person is already a crime, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns are deeply dangerously misguided. Again. Still.
Bradley Fox deserves better.