George Boardman: We need to do a better job of enforcing the guns laws we already have | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: We need to do a better job of enforcing the guns laws we already have

George Boardman
Columnist

Gun rights advocates are correct about one thing when it comes to the debate over guns: We're not doing a good job enforcing the laws we have already enacted.

There are approximately 20,000 federal, state and local laws currently on the books that govern the purchase, handling and use of firearms, and more laws are always proposed when we have a tragedy like the recent mass shooting in Florida.

As I write this, 10 bills proposing new gun laws have been introduced in the California Legislature, the state that supposedly has the toughest gun laws in the country. Then there's legislation that's been proposed in other states and at the federal level.

Most of these proposals are aimed at making it tougher for mentally ill and dangerous people to obtain firearms, but we already have laws on the books that address those issues. Yet they are poorly enforced or just ignored. We also have laws regulating the storage and handling of firearms that are inconsistently applied in those jurisdictions where the laws exist.

The 300 million or so firearms owned by individuals are here to stay, but that doesn't mean we can't apply current laws to make it harder for bad guys and other dangerous people to get their hands on guns, and take away the incentives to use firearms in the commission of crimes. Along the way, I'm going to mention one gun provision that should be repealed.

Stolen guns often at scene of crime

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One of the realities we have to deal with is the fact that most guns used in crimes were acquired illegally. According to FBI statistics, some 1.2 million guns were stolen from people in the 2012-15 period, and most of the weapons retrieved were recovered at crime scenes or in the possession of perpetrators.

A federal study in 2004 concluded that legal guns were used in just 11 percent of gun-related crimes, and there are plenty of other studies to back that up. Two sociologists asked 2,000 men convicted of gun-related crimes how they acquired their weapons. Half of them said the guns were stolen, and another 20 percent said they were "probably" stolen.

Most of these guns were stolen in home burglaries or car break-ins, not surprising when you consider how careless some legal owners are with their weapons. A recent survey published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that 7 percent of survey takers keep all their guns and ammunition together in an unlocked location.

The findings suggest that at least 5.5 million households have at least one firearm that could be stolen by a thief, taken by a despondent or suicidal family member, or played with by a curious child, even though 27 states and the District of Columbia require guns to be locked up, trigger-locked, stored separately from ammunition, or some combination of the three.

As it turns out, all of the guns stolen aren't reported to police. In a lot of cases where the theft is reported, the owner doesn't know the serial number of the weapon, making it difficult for authorities to trace the weapon. Author Dan Baum, a self-proclaimed gun guy, claims that owners hate reporting stolen guns to police and consider it tyranny if they even have to admit they own guns.

States that have laws governing the storage of guns and ammunition should start jailing gun owners who blithely ignore the law, particularly if their stolen weapon is used in the commission of a felony. You should automatically spend some time behind bars if you don't report a stolen weapon.

Government employees need to be held accountable as well. The gunman who shot up the church in Texas last November was able to buy the guns he used because the Air Force didn't report his court martial conviction for domestic abuse to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, designed to bar unstable or dangerous people from purchasing guns.

It turns out a lot of states are lax in reporting such information as well. Senator John Cornyn has introduced the "Fix NICS" bill to encourage state and federal agencies, including the military, to submit criminal conviction records to the background check system.

Let me suggest some incentives. State bureaucrats should be designated as responsible for reporting this information. If they don't do their job, they get fired and lose their pensions. There's nothing like the threat of losing your pension to motivate a civil service worker. The same should apply to military officials who don't comply with the law.

Effective laws don't leave loopholes

But reforming NICS won't do much good if we leave the loophole that permits people to buy guns at gun shows and from individuals without going through a background check. As police in Alameda County can tell you, gun shows in Reno and other outlying areas are a source of weapons used by street gangs and criminals who don't want to buy hot stolen weapons off the street.

Then there are ghost guns, beloved by do-it-yourself enthusiasts who can build guns from kits that lack serial numbers, making it easy to bypass background checks and registration regulations. Just last month, a Grass Valley resident was arrested for allegedly manufacturing and selling ghost AR-15 assault rifles, the apparent weapon of choice for America's mass murderers.

Admittedly, banning ghost guns would require passing a new law, but it could be offset by the repeal of another provision: The ban that prevents the Centers for Disease Control from spending any money on research into the public health impact of our gun culture. The prohibition, backed by the NRA and approved in 1996, stemmed in part from the following comment from the head of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control:

"We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. It used to be that smoking was a glamour symbol — cool, sexy, macho. Now it's dirty, deadly and banned."

No wonder the gun guys pushed for the ban. Gun guys want to be left alone to buy, use and carry guns because they claim to understand firearms better than any bureaucrat. Left unsaid are those gun owners who behave so carelessly that thousands of people are needlessly killed, injured or victimized by those weapons.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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