Against Gun Violence, and Michael Wolkowitz of Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence on right.
New York State's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at a press conference on Sunday to announce Gillibrand's pending reintroduction of the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2011.
In my opinion, solutions to the problem of interstate gun trafficking can be addressed via a mutually respectful decision by states to agree to disagree on what are appropriate, reasonable fire arms policy within their own state borders. And when there is problems, it's entirely within the Federal government's interest to assist states with enforcement.
Regional attitudes vary greatly, I get it. I grew up in Michigan, where guns are seen among my then-neighbors as a part of the culture. The Michigan legislature recently took two weeks off to go deer hunting. This legislation has no reason to concern the majority of law abiding gun owners and dealers.
Now, I've lived in New York City for going on 19 years, and the urban reality is considerably different than in the state where I grew up. The violence is real and pervasive and all too common.
There was the time two year-old David Pacheco was randomly shot dead in his car seat on Easter Sunday, caught in a Bronx crossfire. Or the time 92-year-old Sadie Mitchell of the Bronx was shot as she watched television in her living room.
Or just last Friday, a clearly mentally disturbed man, with a criminal record abruptly started shooting on a Queens public bus, killing one person and injuring others.
The paranoid ex-con who fatally shot his girlfriend's teenage son, then killed one person and injured another on a Q111 NYC Transit bus in Queens was allegedly hoping for a bloodbath. Damel Burton, 34, told cops the bus shooting occurred because he believed the commuters were plotting against him. And prosecutors say he had been planning to shoot even more people: "The defendant stated that he would have shot more people but the gun jammed," prosecutor Suzanne O'Hare said at Burton's arraignment, according to the News.AG Schneiderman said, "There's no way in the world this guy should have had a gun."
No. Not anymore than Jared Loughner should have been able to break out shooting at Gabrielle Gifford's event last year.
And to be clear, we don't know how this man on parole from prison got a gun. But without responsible gun sales, there is no foundation for responsible gun ownership. And responsibility is sadly lacking in the gun sales industry.
From Wednesday's New York Times Union:
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just finished his press conference on a statewide investigation in which investigators visited gun shows where undercover investigators found dealers selling a variety of hunting and assault-style rifles to people without performing the required federal background checks.Investigators specifically mentioned they had outstanding issues, like a domestic violence assault conviction that would have precluded them from passing a Federally required background check. Ten dealers—all of the ones approached—sold them a gun anyway.
“I’m very sorry to report that at every gun show they visited, undercover investigators who explicitly stated that they could not pass background checks were able to obtain firearms,” Schneiderman said, pointing to an array of rifles laid out on the table beside him.
“This is clearly pointing to a flaw in our laws,” he said.
Think about that. Would your want your sister or girlfriend's violent ex-boyfriend to have such easy, unfettered access to a gun, acquired in blatant defiance of Federal law?
It really shouldn't be easier for a violent, convicted felon to buy a gun than it is for a teenager to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels, but it is.
Ten gun dealers from six New York county gun shows were stung by this investigation and face charges.
“The worst-kept secret in America is that guns are available to all at gun shows,” Schneiderman said, adding he wants tougher laws and penalties regarding such illicit sales and the imposition of potential liability on gun show operators who don’t properly oversee the sellers who participate in these events.This is called this the "iron pipeline," the manner in which guns from states with considerable more liberal gun laws flow across state lines into the hands of criminals in other states. Schneiderman says nearly 90 percent of the firearms used in gun crimes in New York City come from out of state. There are currently no Federal laws that address illegal gun trafficking.
At Sunday's press conference, Schneiderman makes the point that in the current, functionally, near-lawless environment actually places the majority of law-abiding gun dealers in a marketplace disadvantage. Qualified or not, why bother purchasing from a dealer who conducts a background check, when there are ample dealers who will not inconvenience your time?
Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for holding gun show operators accountable. Schneiderman says:
The gun show accountability gap puts communities in New York and across the country at risk, and it must be addressed. I support Senator Gillibrand's proposal to stiffen penalties against those who ignore the law, and to protect our communities and provide law enforcement officials with the tools they need to bring criminals to justice.
“The Attorney General’s critical investigation shows just how easy it is for guns to end up in the hands of dangerous people. By cracking down on gun dealers who blatantly disobey the law as well as illegal gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks, we can reduce gun violence and keep our families and neighborhoods safe. We must give law enforcement the tools they need to eliminate illegal guns from the street."
It would currently take the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms seven to ten years to properly inspect every licensed gun dealer in the country. This bill would empower the ATF to hire more personal to reduce the time between inspections to three years. Expanding the circle of accountability is also a good way to motivate the gun sales industry to better police itself, an area where they are clearly failing.
A question surfaced regarding Senator Thune's bill requiring states to honor one another's conceal-carrying permits, a version of which has passed the House. Senator Gillibrand was diplomatic in expressing her disagreement with her colleague's bill, and was confident the Senate would "hold the line" where the House had failed. Thune's bill narrowly failed to overcome a filibuster in 2009 with 58 votes.
AG Schneiderman was far less measured in his critique of the bill, saying it was going in the wrong direction and calling it "anti-law enforcement." He also pointed out there is no national database which local authorities could verify the authenticity of a out-of-state concealed carry permit, essentially opening the floodgates for anyone to conceal-carry anywhere.
In my opinion, Thune's bill is a misguided attempt to impose Federal sovereignty over individual state's own right to determine what is appropriate time and place for carrying firearms. It would invalidate applicable state laws via the footprint of big government mandate.
The issue of guns is clearly a very touchy subject, many have called it a third rail. Certainly even in the wake of the horrific Gabrielle Gifford's shooting, functionally, most of DC has behaved as though even the most reasonable changes dare not be discussed.
The right's paranoia on this topic is thoroughly disconnected from reality unfortunately. Recently, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre made the case that Obama Administration's decision not to pursue a single piece of gun control legislation was proof-positive of a nefarious plan by the administration to take away everyone's guns.
“But it’s a big fat stinking lie!” the NRA leader exclaimed. “It’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and destroy the Second Amendment in our country.”
Daily Kos' own Tom Tomorrow posted a sad parody of the absurd beltway dynamic that delivers only paralysis on the subject of firearms:
Faced with such entrenched views, when doing absolutely nothing can lead the NRA to such demonizing, it's easy to feel despondent at any possibility of change, and throw your hands up in despair, even when the current system lends itself so readily to anarchy and pointless, potentially avoidable tragedy.
Given this environment, I applaud Senator's Gillibrand's "courage" (and yes, I'm using a little irony there) to push forward with a bill to protect families, reinforce rule of law, represent the best interests her state. The bill present no danger at all to the majority of law-abiding gun owners and dealers in New York, or any other state.
Carry on, Senator! I'm glad you're young, I'm sure you have a long road ahead. But, like AG Schneiderman said in the press conference, we appreciate your "relentless" nature!
Senator Gillibrand's description of the bill, via press release:
The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act will:
Focus on Entire Criminal Network
First, the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act makes it illegal to traffic or assist in the trafficking of a firearm, making it unlawful to deliver or receive two or more firearms where the individual knows or has reason to believe that the firearms are being, or will be, used in a felony. By going after straw-purchasers who buy a gun for someone else to help them evade required recordkeeping and background checks, corrupt gun dealers who sell firearms to traffickers, and persons who conspire with and organize gun trafficking rings, this legislation addresses firearms trafficking at every point of the chain.
Tough Penalties for Criminals
Second, the legislation establishes stiff penalties that are a much-needed deterrent to gun trafficking. Under this bill, traffickers could face up to twenty years in prison and be fined a significant sum of money. It also provides greater penalties for kingpins who organize gun trafficking rings, subjecting them to an additional sentence of potentially five consecutive years in prison. Penalties could increase depending on the number of guns trafficked.
The bill also treats individuals engaged in a conspiracy to traffic guns the same as those who actually traffic a gun. Individuals who engage in the conspiracy are subject to the same punishment as those who physically sell and receive the illegal guns.
By creating more options and providing flexibility for prosecutors and judges, we increase the tools that are available for prosecutors in the federal criminal justice system to appropriately crack down on individuals who are engaged in every aspect of gun trafficking.
Crackdown on Corrupt Gun Dealers
Third, the Attorney General of the United States and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are empowered to impose heightened restrictions, levy tough financial penalties, and suspend or revoke the license of any corrupt gun dealer. Corrupt gun dealers will be subject to a license suspension of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,500 per violation. This is the first time that the levying of civil penalties will be widely available as a deterrent for corrupt gun dealers.
The Attorney General is given the authority to identify and impose special restrictions on high-risk gun dealers, which could include dealers who have been unable to trace guns as required by federal law or who report significant or frequent inventory losses or thefts, among other criteria.
To prevent these high-risk dealers from supplying guns to traffickers, federal law enforcement would be able to impose conditions on them such as increased inspections, inventory checks and reconciliation, training dealers and employees in how to avoid illegal sales, and requiring that the dealer not complete firearm sales until the national instant background check system informs the dealer that they may proceed with the sale.
The overwhelming majority of licensed gun dealers are responsible and law abiding. This bill goes after the very small minority of dealers who are contributing to the cycle of violence that puts our children and families at risk.
For those dealers that are suspected of corrupt practices, the legislation protects the right of due process before their licenses are revoked by the Attorney General, and also allows for gun dealers whose licenses have been revoked to seek judicial review. By putting reasonable punishments in place, this legislation would put corrupt gun dealers out of business, create deterrents to engaging in these behaviors and keep our neighborhoods safe from gun violence.
Resources for ATF
The fourth part of the bill provides ATF with the resources that it desperately needs to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers and further investigate high-risk gun dealers. Federal law currently allows ATF to conduct annual inspections of all federally licensed dealers, but with the current lack of resources and funding it would take the bureau between seven and ten years to properly inspect every licensed dealer in the country. This allows corrupt dealers to go for many years without being suspected or caught. To address this problem, the bill would authorize the Director of ATF to hire additional personnel to reduce the average inspection rate of gun dealers to three years.
Protections for Responsible, Law-Abiding Gun Owners
Finally, the legislation upholds the Constitution and protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Specifically, the bill provides a defense for an individual seller who obtains a background check on the person to whom he or she is selling prior to the sale. This serves to protect individual gun owners who make a good faith effort to ensure that they are not selling their firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing those guns. This bill does not provide any new regulations on individuals who wish to sell or give their firearms as a gift to law-abiding family members, friends, or neighbors. It creates an incentive to conduct a background check before the gun is exchanged. It also exempts executors from prosecution under this legislation if they are carrying out the provisions of a will.