Fred LaSor: Thinking about gun laws
November 30, 2017
Every time some mentally unstable person uses a firearm to shoot up a public gathering, the same collection of talking heads can be expected to declare that "we need to DO something."
Almost as if they are coordinating their call for action, most of them repeat a similar line: We need to "close the gun show loophole" or "outlaw assault weapons." Whatever they want to do, the call invariably is that "now is the time to act."
Perhaps the time to act is actually when there is not some national horror on our TV screens that is driving the action. Perhaps we need to think deliberately about what part of existing gun laws fail us, and see if we can find a solution that will finally accomplish what most of us want: actually keeping firearms out of the hands of people who will use them to inflict mass casualties on other human beings.
There is another realization our leaders and we as a nation need to come to: We don't actually need new laws if we already have existing legislation that is not being enforced that would prevent future occurrences. We just need to enforce the laws we already have, or at least the rational ones.
An article in the New York Times several weeks after Devin P. Kelley shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, illustrates the nature of the problem: Under existing federal law, a person convicted of domestic abuse will have their identity entered into a federal database that is electronically searched when anyone tries to buy a firearm from a source that is in the business of buying and selling guns. This legislation grew out of the realization that many domestic abusers eventually end up using a firearm to kill the person they're abusing.
Kelley had been convicted of domestic assault. The Air Force was aware of other disqualifying charges against him. That information was not entered into the federal records though, so he was allowed to purchase multiple firearms including the one he used in the church shooting.
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Readers may well ask why we have laws that are not enforced. It appears that Air Force officials who were aware of Kelley's history did not enter the incriminating information into the national database. Perhaps that was due to oversight, or perhaps to a misguided conviction that doing so would put an indelible mark on his record. That is speculation on my part; we are still waiting to hear why his name did not flag the purchase and prevent it.
The important question is, what would have prevented Kelley and Stephen Paddock — the shooter in Las Vegas — from gaining access to firearms? The national background database (generally referred to as NICS) should have flagged sales to Kelley, but probably not to Paddock, who apparently passed his NICS checks without any issue.
Legislation outlawing high-capacity magazines, assault weapons, or bump stocks would not have prevented either shooting, although such laws might have slowed down the speed with which both were accomplished and thus saved some lives. As for closing the so-called "gun show loophole," it would not have prevented either shooting, or even reduced the victim count.
Here's my suggestion: Let's try enforcing the laws we currently have on the books, and holding accountable the people who do not do so.
In the case of the Texas shooter, the Air Force could identify and punish the clerk who did not alert NICS so other clerks might not make the same mistake again.
That's more effective than closing a gun show loophole that does not exist.
Fred LaSor lives in the Carson Valley and enjoys using legal firearms.