The new falcon herald logo.
Feature Articles

Owning guns in America

The issues we face today are often muddled by a plethora of media outlets. Whom to believe? Often, the points of the issues can get distorted or exaggerated.†And all too often, we donít discuss the issues, and when we do, we donít always listen with an open mind. We hang on to our opinions like a spider to its web.†Most of the issues are not black and white; theyíre gray.This column is not about one particular personís opinion. This column is about ìwhy and how.î The sources are reputable organizations. If we donít include statistics in some areas, itís because we donít trust where they came from. Stats can be skewed to anyoneís agenda, too.Any national issue is up for discussion. Weíll take it on ñ with respect to all sides.Some argue that the Second Amendmentís ìright to bear armsî refers to the statesí rights to form a militia. Others fiercely believe our forefathers were referring to an individualís right to own guns. Perhaps itís both. Regardless, the debate has evolved beyond interpretation. Violence in America has led to regulation and gun restrictions. The debate today: How much restriction?The Gun Control Act of 1968 restricted gun ownership on the basis of age, criminal background and competence. Felons, illegal drug users and those found mentally incompetent are prohibited from owning a gun. The Act also regulated gun imports, expanded licensing regulations for gun dealers and limited handgun sales.In 1972, Congress established the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to enforce those federal laws.In 1990, Congress passed the Crime Control Act, which banned the manufacture and import of semiautomatic guns. The Act also instituted ìgun-free school zones,î making it illegal to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of school property.The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993 mandated background checks for gun purchasers. James Brady, press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, was shot in the head in March 1981 and left partially paralyzed when John Hinckley Jr., who used a false address and an outdated Texas driverís license to purchase the gun, attempted to assassinate Reagan. Hinckley had previously been arrested for trying to board a commercial airline with three handguns in his carry-on bag; he had been under psychiatric care as well.The Brady Act mandates that all federally licensed gun dealers perform background checks on all gun buyers. The purchaser must sign a form that certifies he or she meets the requirements to own a gun and is the actual buyer.The NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check) computer system was developed to provide instantaneous background information to gun dealers.In 2010, NICS denied 820,888 gun purchases; 61.82 percent of the people who had been subjected to a background check and denied had been convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison.But some fall through the cracks.Jared Loughner killed six people in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8, wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others. The U.S. Army had rejected Loughner for drug abuse but did not share the information with the FBI; Loughner passed the background check.Cho Seung-Hui, who murdered 32 people and wounded many others in the Virginia Tech killing spree of April 2007, would have failed a background check, if his mental health records had been sent to the NICS.The Virginia Tech massacre prompted Congress to pass an amendment to ensure that NICS is up-to-date with all records, but it hasnít been completed because Congress has not appropriated the total funds needed. Legislation loopholesMany guns are bought at gun shows, where federally licensed dealers must do background checks. But private sellers, because of an assumption they are occasional sellers only, are exempt from performing background checks.The guns used in the Columbine High School killings in Littleton, Colo., were purchased at a gun show by an 18-year-old who bought from a private seller.In a sting operation conducted by the city of New York in January ñ following the Tucson shooting ñ undercover investigators were sent to a gun show in Phoenix. One investigator bought a Glock 9-mm pistol from a private seller and another two high-capacity 33-round magazines ñ no questions asked.Another investigator bought two 9-mm semi-automatic pistols from two different private sellers. The investigator also told both sellers he probably couldnít pass a background check. But both sellers sold the guns anyway, knowing the buyers could be ìprohibited purchasers.îIt is a felony to sell a gun to a known or suspected ìprohibited purchaser.îOne private seller told the undercover investigator that without a background check and paperwork, the gun would be difficult to trace; therefore, the buyer could easily sell it to someone else.In a similar operation in 2009, the city of New York sent investigators to seven gun shows in Nevada, Tennessee and Ohio. The results of the investigation: 19 of 30 gun sellers sold guns to an investigator who said he couldnít pass a background check.According to ATF records, 27 percent of guns involved in illegal trafficking are associated with private sellers ñ 30 percent are connected to gun shows.In 2001, Ali Boumelhem was apprehended when he tried to ship guns, ammunition and other materials to Hezbollah. He and his brother Mohamed bought the guns at Michigan gun shows.Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require background checks for all sales of handguns, and that includes private sellers. In Colorado, there is no requirement for background checks on people buying firearms through ìnewspaper, Internet or other advertisementsî or ìon the street.î However, criminal background checks are required for everyone, including private sales transactions, at a ìrecognized gun show.îProponents of private gun sales say they are protected under the Second Amendment, but those who abuse the privilege should be prosecuted.First, they have to find them.Unfortunately, the ATF has not drawn a hard line between the occasional private gun seller and the private seller who is dealing more than occasionally.Illegal private dealers who sell dozens of guns at a time, many times throughout the year, are also hiding their income. The drawback is policing those private sellers.Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y, have introduced legislation to close the gun show loophole. Simply, private sellers would be required by law to conduct background checks on all buyers. McCarthy ran for office on a gun-control platform. Her husband was killed and her son injured by a gunman in New York City in 1993.We, the peopleOn Monday following the Tucson shooting, the FBI reported that gun sales in Arizona increased by more than 60 percent and by 5 percent across the country.After President Obama defeated Sen. John McCain, gun sales spiked in the first two months of 2009. About 2.5 million Americans bought guns ñ a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008.A fear of increased legislation led the surge in gun sales.The percentage of Americans in favor of stricter gun laws has dropped from 78 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2010, according to Gallup polls.The National Rifle Association is arguably the most powerful lobbyist group in the country, and they reason that our right to bear arms will be usurped by further legislation.To NRA members and others, guns are more than tools used to hunt or defend. Guns are a collectorís item. To many gun enthusiasts, guns, including automatic weapons, are no different than the Mona Lisa is to art lovers.The NRA does support ìgun control that is designed to prohibit felons from buying or possessing firearms as long as those laws do not also infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.îBut Ö reasons for gun control?Many of the stats listed on both pro-gun Web sites and gun-control Web sites are old news ñ from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and statistics can be skewed to support either side. So, I relied on the FBI and Centers for Disease Control.The FBIís latest stats reported were from 2009, which showed that crime rates have actually decreased.In 2009, an estimated 1,318,398 violent crimes occurred nationwide ñ down from 5.3 percent in 2008 estimates; 7.5 percent below the 2000 level.Firearms are still used in the majority of murders.In 2009, firearms were used in 67.1 percent of all murders, 42.6 percent of robberies and 20.9 percent of aggravated assaults. The FBI noted that weapons data is not collected for ìforcibleî rape. (What other kind of rape is there?)There were 15,241 murders in the U.S. in 2009.In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported the following:The number of deaths from gun-related homicides was 12,632. The overall number of homicides was 18,361.The number of gun-related suicides was 17,352 ñ total suicides 34,598.Hereís a reality that might raise your hackles.Between February 2004 and December 2010, 1,453 people on the terrorist watch list attempted to purchase firearms or explosives. Ninety percent of them were successful. It is not illegal for someone on the terrorist watch list to purchase a gun in the U.S., provided they pass a background check ñ or not, in the case of a private sale.Lautenberg has also introduced a bill that would give the U.S. attorney general the authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives to suspected terrorists. Seems like a no-brainer, but the NRA opposed the legislation because it restricts the rights of people who would normally pass a background check.The NRA is leery of the ìintegrityî of the terrorist watch list. In fairness, they have a point.There are more than 400,000 names on the suspected terrorist list, names that are added and deleted daily.Perhaps the FBI needs to fine tune its terrorist list.The above information on terrorists and guns was retrieved from Sen. Lautenbergís Web site and a Fox News report that cited the stats from the GAO (Government Accountability Office).Common sense vs. controlAlthough there is federal law, gun laws vary from coast to coast, indicative, it seems, of a blue or red state. Gun regulation or the lack of has pitted Republicans against Democrats, not unlike every other issue. But when does common sense cross party lines?The majority of states in the U.S. have a ìshall permitî right-to-carry provision, which means if the gun owner wants to carry his weapon he can apply for a permit. Most states also have reciprocity agreements on the right to carry with other ìselectî states.Many states allow guns in places where alcohol is served, but only a few states allow guns in bars: Arizona, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. The Ohio Legislature has just passed similar regulation to allow guns in bars; itís waiting for the governorís signature.In 1990, I was with friends in a bar in Manitou Springs on Super Bowl Sunday. San Francisco was ripping Denver to pieces ñ final score 55-10. A 49er fan was taunting Bronco fans. A Denver fan had had enough and poured a drink on the obnoxious 49er fan. It turned physical. If guns had been involved, it could have been fatal. Guns in bars donít mix.The reasoning behind the pro-guns-in-bars legislation, in part, is that people should be able to protect themselves ñ be on equal footing. But if someone is going to a bar where he or she needs protection, perhaps that liquor license should be questioned.Children and guns donít mix, either.Often, kids are collateral damage: drive by shootings, for example. And all too often, they are the victims of a negligent parent, who didnít take time to secure the gun in a safe place.In 2007, 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire (latest reliable data on children and guns ñ from the CDC). Of that number, 2,161 were homicide victims, 683 committed suicide and 198 died in accidental circumstances. More than 17,000 were wounded by gunfire.Guns and leniency donít mix, as well.In January, The Denver Post published an article by Jessica Fender about the murder of a 16-year-old girl. Edward Timothy Romero, who was 26 at the time, is awaiting trial for killing Alicia Martinez with a gun and dismembering her body in October 2010.Romero had a record, which included auto theft, aggravated robbery, flunking probation programs and ignoring probation officers; and later an arrest for firing a semiautomatic .45 caliber handgun during a fight with his girlfriend. Despite the fact that a panel of criminal justice experts had earlier recommended prison for Romero; despite the fact that he was in possession of a gun as a ìprohibited purchaser;î Romero pleaded out to wielding the gun and received three years of ìintenseî probation.This scenario exists way too often across the country. Repeat offenders who could have been off the streets; instead, theyíve murdered someone.The real issueGuns are part of our history and our culture. At last count, more than 280 millions guns were legally owned in America.Regardless of how one interprets the Second Amendment or feels about gun control, we have to be proactive and preventive, using common sense as our guide rather than self-serving interests. No matter what needs fixing ñ health care, the economy, education, the environment, poverty, child neglect, violence in America ñ we must be preventive and not reactive. If not, weíre simply shooting ourselves in the foot.This column does not necessarily represent the views of The New Falcon Herald.

StratusIQ Fiber Internet Falcon Advertisement

Current Weather

Weather Cams by StratusIQ

Search Advertisers