Crime will feed off lax U.S. gun laws
A congressional OK of weaker rules stands to appease lobbyists â€" and the public would pay a fatal price
Published on: 08/07/06
As gun lobbyists often point out, states with stringent gun-safety laws such as New York often have some of the highest firearm murder rates in the country. The implication is that stringent gun laws donâ€™t work.
However, what the lobbyists never mention is that the firearms used to kill and maim people in states with stringent gun laws often flow from states with weaker laws.
Ed Reed/NYC mayorâ€™s office
For example, when New York Cityâ€™s no-nonsense Republican mayor looked at the gun crime in his city, he found that thousands of weapons used by criminals had been imported from states such as Georgia, where firearms are almost as easy to buy as fireworks. In fact, Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned, 82 percent of the crime guns in New York City were bought outside of the state of New York.
â€œThe harsh reality is that far too many people continue to be killed with illegal guns â€" and nearly all of those guns are purchased outside of New York state,â€ said Bloomberg. â€œLast year, illegal guns were used to take the lives of more than 300 people in our city.â€
Using federal gun-tracing data, New York identified out-of-state dealers â€" including five in Georgia â€" who had sold weapons linked to more than 500 crimes in the city from 1994 to 2001.
The city dispatched teams of private detectives with hidden cameras to the dealerships to see how easy it would be for an illegal buyer to walk in and get a gun in a â€œstrawâ€ purchase. Thatâ€™s when a buyer who legally canâ€™t own a gun â€" mainly because he has a criminal record â€" brings a pal to fill out the mandated federal background check.
New York confirmed that certain dealers were more than willing to engage in the straw sales that feed the gun trafficking pipeline. After the city caught 15 dealers selling guns to straw buyers, it filed a lawsuit in May that the gun lobby dismissed as a joke.
Well, two of the five Georgia gun dealers named in the lawsuit agreed to settle last week, suggesting that the lawsuit wasnâ€™t so silly after all. The shop owners agreed to strict monitoring of their sales practices and financial penalties on any future violations.
New Yorkâ€™s sting operation refutes the National Rifle Associationâ€™s fairy tale that guns fall from the skies into the hands of criminals, and the NRAâ€™s response has been telling. It is now pushing Congress to pass a law that would prohibit the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing gun trace information to anyone but a police department investigating a particular crime.
Had that prohibition been in place, New York never could have conducted its sting operation.
Even more incredible, the gun lobby wants to jail police officials who share gun-tracing information with other law enforcement departments. A New York officer who talks to a New Jersey state trooper about a crooked gun dealer could go to jail for five years under the proposed legislation.
â€œI would not expect that I would need to remind Congress of the horrific consequences that this country, and particularly New York City, suffered as a result of the federal governmentâ€™s failure to share information among law enforcement agencies, and to work together to â€˜connect the dotsâ€™ in order to establish patterns of criminality and threats of danger,â€ an outraged Bloomberg told a congressional committee.
â€œYet incredibly, instead of demanding that our law enforcement agencies share information, Congress is considering making it a crime,â€ Bloomberg said. â€œAs absurd as it sounds, this bill would not only erect new barriers to information, it could send police officers to prison in order to prevent them from holding the worst gun dealers accountable for their potentially dangerous actions. How in the world would you explain that to the public?â€
When it come to guns, though, Congress doesnâ€™t answer to the public. It panders to the gun extremists who, because of their own paranoia, treat any move toward sensible regulation as a grab at their personal arsenal.
In addition, Congress is considering passage of legislation that would set a standard for prosecution so high that the ATF would be virtually powerless to revoke the licenses of corrupt dealers. Another bill crafted by the gun lobby would make it easier to cross state lines to buy a handgun.
Next, Congress will be proposing to grant gun owners a tax break for buying in volume.
The proposed changes come at a time when the FBI is reporting a rise in violent crime, especially in mid-size cities. Police are beginning to tie newly legalized assault weapons with increased gang violence. (When Congress refused to renew the ban on assault rifles two years ago, who did it think would be the market for AK-47s, Uzis and Tec-9 pistols â€" the Rotary Club?)
The last word belongs to Bloomberg.
â€œWhy would Congress protect the irresponsible gun dealers who help criminals get guns?â€ he asked the committee. â€œWhy is it good public policy to make cities fight the war against gun violence with one hand tied behind their backs? ... Is it for these few ideologues and extraordinarily unusual cases that you are willing to facilitate the shooting deaths of thousands of innocent Americans across this country every year?â€
The mayor and the rest of America still wait for an answer.
â€" Maureen Downey, for the editorial board ([email protected])