Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Something to Know - 1 June

Tom Toles

Maybe we should look at one Federal Law on the Books already there that may be worth pursuing as we attempt to resolve our national shame:

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Gun Control That Actually Works

FOR more than 80 years, the United States has enforced a tough and effective gun control law that most Americans have never heard of. It's a 1934 measure called the National Firearms Act, and it stands as a stark rebuke to the most sacred precepts of the gun lobby and provides a model we should build on.

Leaders of the National Rifle Association rarely talk about the firearms act, and that's probably because it imposes precisely the kinds of practical — and constitutional — limits on gun ownership, such as registration and background checks, that the N.R.A. regularly insists will lead to the demise of the Second Amendment.

In speeches, publications and a steady stream of fund-raising literature, the N.R.A. rails against gun registration and gun owner databases. In 2008, the organization's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, claimed that photographing and fingerprinting gun owners was "the key gun control scheme" of the candidate Barack Obama, who, Mr. LaPierre predicted, would confiscate every gun in America before the end of his first term as president. The N.R.A. now says that the "real goal" of "gun control supporters" like Hillary Clinton is " gun confiscation."

But the longstanding National Firearms Act not only already mandated the registration of all owners of machine guns, short-barreled rifles, silencers and other weapons deemed highly dangerous at the time, it created a national database of those gun owners with their mug shots and fingerprints, and a detailed description of each weapon purchased, including its serial number. Purchasers of "N.F.A. weapons," as they are known, must pass an F.B.I. background check, be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and pay a $200 tax. Stolen weapons must be reported to the A.T.F. immediately — the sort of requirement the N.R.A. opposes for other gun thefts.

The National Firearms Act includes much of what the N.R.A. fights against, but the lobbying group hasn't directly challenged it. That may be because the firearms database, which includes weapons owned by both private citizens and law enforcement agencies, accounts for only a small percentage of the 300 million firearms estimated to be in private hands. Perhaps it should fight against it, though, because the 1934 law makes a good case against the N.R.A. The more than four million weapons inventoried — including machine guns, missiles, hand grenades and mortars — are the best example we have of gun control that works.

The N.F.A. was designed to control what today's Justice Department calls "dangerous weapons that empower a single individual to take many lives in a single incident." Millions of firearms now in private hands, including assault rifles designed for use by the military, are just as lethal as weapons covered by the N.F.A. They should be brought under the act.

Jeff Folloder, the executive director of the N.F.A. Trade and Collectors Association, says his members have learned to live with gun registration and lose no sleep worrying about confiscation. "There are still an enormous number of people who think if they register and purchase an N.F.A. weapon, they're giving A.T.F. permission to come knock on their door at any time, and that's just not true," Mr. Folloder told me. "You're not giving up any rights."

Mr. Folloder, a manufacturer and collector of machine guns and silencers, is no fan of the firearms act. He'd like to make machine guns more readily available, and lobbied successfully to repeal a requirement that N.F.A. owners be preapproved by a local law enforcement officer. But Mr. Folloder and the A.T.F. agree that registrants are rarely implicated in crimes. People with registered weapons who can pay $40,000 for a machine gun "bend over backwards to obey the law," he says. "If you're going to spend that much money and put that much effort into obtaining one of these, you're not going to be holding up the liquor store."

N.F.A.-classified weapons do show up at crime scenes. But nearly all of them were unregistered, so the simple act of possession was a crime. According to A.T.F. analysis, among N.F.A. weapon owners there were only 12 felony convictions between 2006 and 2014, and those crimes did not involve an N.F.A. weapon. If that conviction rate were applied to the owners of the other privately owned firearms in the United States, gun crime would virtually disappear.

That's unlikely to happen, of course, because a majority of our lawmakers are so cowed by the N.R.A. that gun control advocates rarely even consider registration as part of their agenda.

In the 1930s, when the N.F.A. was debated, the N.R.A. president, Karl Frederick, effectively endorsed registration of all firearms and licensing of gun owners: "I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons," he once said. "I think it should be sharply restricted and only under license."

The case for licensing and registration is stronger now than ever. Yet to today's N.R.A. such measures are an existential threat to the Second Amendment. If that is true, why hasn't the government used the N.F.A. database to confiscate weapons? Why has it failed to move against the holders of hunting licenses and concealed carry permits who readily submit to milder forms of gun licensing and registration?

Eighty years of experience with the N.F.A. have demonstrated that people who register weapons rarely commit crimes. Registration fosters responsibility and its tremendous success forcefully undermines the N.R.A.'s nonsensical claims that reasonable limits on gun ownership are a serious burden to law-abiding gun owners.

Alan Berlow, who has written frequently about the National Rifle Association, is the author of "Dead Season: A Story of Murder and Revenge."


Donald Trump aids and abets violence.

- An American Story

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