Lawmakers Stifle Process of Finding Problem Gun Dealers
Thirty-two. Thirty-two people murdered at Virginia Tech, shocking the nation. Thirty-two. Thirty-two people murdered every day in America.
Homicides and violent crime are on the rise across the nation. Mayors and police chiefs are desperate to crack down on guns and crime. But in Congress the gun lobby has succeeded in making it illegal for police chiefs to track down the source of the guns used in crimes. This week Congress will decide once more whether it will stand with the police chiefs or placate the gun lobby by standing with the criminals and terrorists. You wouldn't think it was a hard choice.
Guns are not made in our urban areas. For the most part, the guns used in crimes are not even purchased in our cities. Eighty-five percent of crime guns in New York City come from out of state.
The source of these guns can be traced. In fact, the vast majority of guns used in crimes come from a small minority of gun dealers. According to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms report, 1 percent of gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes. Eighty-six percent of gun dealers supply no crime guns at all.
That's because the vast majority of gun dealers are law-abiding. They follow the laws and the industry practices that help them identify criminals barred from purchasing guns, and to deter the "straw purchasers" that criminals often use to buy the guns they seek. But a small minority profit heavily from ignoring the laws and industry practices and dealing guns even when they know or should know something smells in the deal.
Mayor Bloomberg of New York City used BATF data to identify the gun dealers that were supplying the bulk of the guns used in crimes in New York City. He then dispatched undercover police agents to make straw purchases and detail the violations of the law. He then brought a civil suit against the gun dealers that were outside of the city's criminal jurisdiction. Several settled agreeing to accept court appointed monitors and to adhere to strict legal and industry requirements.
The gun lobby then mobilized to protect the dealers. Rep. Tom Tiarht, R-Kan., attached a rider to the BATF appropriations that prohibits the agency from sharing gun data with police agencies or anyone else, unless specifically related to an individual crime. The rider's only purpose was to shield the shady gun dealers. So much for tough-on-crime Republicans.
This week, Congress will vote on this rider for this year's BATF appropriations. Police chiefs and mayors across the nation have mobilized to ask Congress to repeal the Tiarht pro-criminal legislation. Their Web site, www.protectpolice.org, provides a wealth of data on why the Tiarht rider -- and a new effort by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to enforce it with criminal sanctions -- is truly perverse. Tough-on-crime Republicans propose to prosecute police chiefs if they seek the data they need to track down the source of guns used in crimes in their jurisdictions!
Cracking down on shady dealers is just common sense. Limiting the number of guns that anyone can buy at one time also makes sense. That will make it harder for straw purchasers to operate. Reviving the ban on assault weapons will save the lives of police and innocents.
It is truly obscene that after Sept. 11, as the country is warned to be on the alert for terrorists here at home, the president allows the ban on the sale of assault weapons to expire. Now terrorists can go into a gun shop and buy the assault weapons they need to wreak true havoc. Hunters do not use assault weapons to shoot deer or ducks.
Everyday our newspapers report on U.S. casualties in Iraq. It would make sense if everyday they reported on the far higher U.S. casualties to gun violence in the United States. That toll of the dead and wounded might end the grip that the NRA and the gun lobby have on the Congress.
In Iraq, there is no nonsense about guns don't kill people, criminals kill people. The U.S. military doesn't make a distinction between stopping the flow of guns and cracking down on terrorists. Our soldiers track the source of the bombs and guns that are killing American soldiers and take them out, even as they fight the terrorists in deadly skirmishes each day.
That's just common sense. This week, we'll see if Congress can apply similar common sense to the streets of America.
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.