Tuesday, May 05, 2009

If You Want it, Come and Take it...

(But I Promise it Won't Be Easy)

"The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" [Amendment II, Bill of Rights]

This past January, a bill was introduced in Congress that would greatly affect a large number of Americans. This was not the first time such a bill was proposed in Washington, because many passionate activists have spent their entire careers working toward such legislation. However, most Americans didn't hear a word about it. This particular piece of legislation flew way under the radar, shielded from sight by the frenzy of big government spending, earmarks, and partisan bickering.

I'm writing, of course, of HR 45, which is titled Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009. This proposed act was introduced in the House on January 6th by Congressman Bobby Rush, who (ironically) served a six month prison sentence in 1969 for illegal possession of firearms. Two of the four described purposes of this bill -- and I'm quoting directly from the text of the Act itself -- is to accomplish the following:

1) to protect the public against the unreasonable risk of injury and death associated with the unrecorded sale or transfer of qualifying firearms to criminals and youth;
3) to restrict the availability of qualifying firearms to criminals, youth, and other persons prohibited by Federal law from receiving firearms

Okay, America...did you get that last part? Go back and read it again if you need to. It's okay. I'll wait right here while you do it. Yeah. That whole part about how we need new regulations to restrict guns getting into the hands of those who are already "prohibited by Federal law" from having them.

Oh God. This could get ugly. I might have to break out the M&M's (in our home, we call them "medicine") to get through it.

Now, before I get into some of the details of these proposed regulations, I would like to provide you with a brief and serious bit of history about the person for whom this Act is named. Blair Holt was a [Chicago] Julian High School student who in May of 2007 died after using his body to shield a girl from a shooting attack on a CTA bus. Blair and several other students were on their way home from school when a former JHS student boarded the bus and opened fire, injuring Blair Holt and four other students. Holt, the son of a police officer and a city firefighter who both taught him the values of courage and leadership, put himself between the shooter and a girl named Tiarra Reed to shield her from the attack. He died that same night.

The attack was perpetrated by a juvenile who had been assigned to alternative school. Though there is little information about the shooter online, what little is said reveals that the shooter was 16 year-old Michael Pace, a young gang member who had (according to sources) been tangled in a two year long dispute with another gang member. His 15-year-old friend, Kevin Jones, gave him a gun with the knowledge that he intended to use it to attempt to kill this other gang member. Both Pace and Jones were charged with the shooting, Pace for having fired the weapon, and Jones for knowingly providing the gun for the crime.

Now, Blair Holt was not only the son of a respected policeman and a firefighter mother, but also was described as an honor student and an all-around great person. While he was not the intended target of the shooting, his heroism put him directly in the line of fire and that noble trait cost him his life. That brave and noble act should never be forgotten, because people like Holt are exactly the kind of people we need more of in America. God bless him for what he did.

However, many folks like myself feel that gun control legislation is not the answer. The gun used in that particular shooting was not a legally purchased gun, nor was it lawfully owned by the person who provided it for the crime. It was an illegal handgun. And gun control legislation doesn't really affect illegal gun possession, now does it?

The state of Illinois has some of the tightest restrictions on firearms in the country. In order to purchase either firearms or ammunition, one must have a state police issued identification card (a Firearm Owner's Identification, FOID) which will only be granted if the applicant has no criminal history (including felonies and domestic violence), is not the subject of a protection order, and has not been institutionalized in a mental facility. Furthermore, Chicago requires that all firearms be registered with the local PD, and handguns cannot currently be registered unless they were registered prior to April of 1982. This, in effect, outlaws handgun ownership. Also, Cook county has banned firearm magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. Illinois does not grant permits to carry, nor does it provide peaceable journey laws.

So, with all that legislation on the books, you might wonder just how two teenagers were able to get their hands on a gun. Well, clearly the gun was not purchased from a licensed retailer, who would have required background checks and proper identification to determine whether or not they were even old enough to purchase a firearm. It's highly unlikely that they purchased the weapon at a gun show, as gun show retailers have to follow the same laws regarding age and background checks as retail stores. And that leaves us with a few alternative answers. And none of those answers involve obeying the law.

Over a decade ago (1997 to be exact), the US Department of Justice surveyed prison inmates who had committed violent crimes with a firearm to determine how they obtained the weapon for the crime for which they were currently serving time. Only 15.3% of the survey respondents admitted that they had purchased their guns at either gun stores, pawnshops, flea markets, or gun shows. Nine percent did not know how they got their guns (yeah, right) or obtained their guns via resources not listed on the survey, and 4.4% refused to answer. That leaves us with the other 71.3% of prison inmates who admitted they got their firearms via illegal methods. Nearly 21% got their guns "off the street" or from drug dealers, 9.6% from black market or a fence, and 36.8% obtained their weapon from either a friend or family member.

So, remind me again just how restricting the legal purchase of a firearm will prevent violent crimes. According to an Americans for Gun Safety report in 2003, some 20 of the 22 national firearm and gun control laws aren't even enforced. Yet, by some remarkable act of divine providence, passing more legislation will fix this problem?

Now, the Blair Holt Act would require that anyone owning a qualifying firearm apply for and be issued a firearm license which would be provided by the US Attorney General. The application for this ID(according to what is written in the proposed legislation, Section 102) would require a passport-sized photograph, the name/address/date AND place of birth of the applicant, any aliases, a thumbprint, a statement that the individual is not prohibited from owning a firearm, a certification by the applicant the firearm will be "safely stored and out of the possession of persons who have not attained 18 years of age", completion of a written firearms examination, an authorization to release to the Attorney General any and all mental health records, and a signature.

Jeez. No DNA samples? Or will the hair follicle samples be collected some time after the application is submitted?

Oh, and there's the $25 application fee, lest I forget. You gotta love those fees. And since the license has to be renewed every five years, you better believe this is yet another way Washington would try to pay for its precious pork.

This proposed legislation goes on and on for pages and pretty much puts nothing new on the table, aside from the photo ID and applicable fees. The truth is, this will only make it more challenging for honest, law-abiding citizens to purchase and maintain their firearms. And when people who obey the law no longer have access to weapons to use for self defense, the only people left who still have guns are the criminals. Do you really think the thugs on the corner are going to get all warm and fuzzy about filling out their applications with the US Attorney General? Do you think they're going to take a written test to ensure they know how to properly store and maintain their guns? Are they really going to endure background checks and waiting periods, not to mention all the mountains of paperwork?

No. They won't.

They're going to keep on doing business the way they've always done business. Under the radar and against the law. Let's not kid ourselves any longer, okay? Gun control doesn't stop gun crimes. It may prevent a small percentage -- a very, very small percentage. And you can't legislate personal responsibility or common sense. (I know... Washington's tried and tried...and you see where it's gotten us?)

The truth is, people who legally purchase a gun are typically already educated on the safety, maintenance, and storage of that gun. They have no criminal or mental histories. They do not intend to use the gun to commit a crime -- they intend to use it to prevent a crime or to prevent becoming a crime victim. And doing what is necessary within the law to ensure your and your family's personal safety...well, that (to me) is an unalienable right.

Now, having read a considerable number of the sections in this bill (as much as I could manage without having blood shoot out of my eyes), I would be remiss not to mention a couple of points that express all of the good intentions of those up in Washington. I only briefly touched on it above, but this act really, honestly wants to ensure that the average, everyday person like you or me who runs off and buys a gun actually knows how to take care of it. For example, Section 305 clearly defines how a gun owner is expected to ensure that firearms are not made accessible to any "child", child being defined as any individual who hasn't reached the age of 18. Basically, a person cannot keep a gun if it is readily available to any child who may use it, and by using it cause death or injury to himself or anyone else. But there are some exceptions. If the gun is locked up and the child still manages to gain access to it, the gun owner cannot be blamed. If the child uses the firearm in a "lawful act of self-defense" or in defending other people, that is also considered okay (despite the fact that the child was never supposed to have access to the gun to save his own life or that of others...just seems odd to me).

Here's the thing: pretty much all of the gun owners I know -- and granted, I do know a lot of pretty intelligent people, which may somewhat skew my perceptions -- already take these precautions. Even in cases where there are no children in the home, and there would be no occasions in which children would be there (visiting, holidays, etcetera), they still keep their handguns locked up in a safe manner. I asked them once why they go through so much trouble to make sure only they can access their firearms. You wanna know what they said? Because they are just being responsible people. Because it's the right thing to do.

When will the Federal government learn that you cannot legislate responsibility or common sense? People either have it or they don't. The passing of hundreds of new acts and laws every single year (most of which are never even enforced to begin with) doesn't really seem to have done much to solve the problems that society has faced over the past century. People who do the right thing continue to suffer on behalf of those who fail to do so either out of ignorance, negligence, or outright refusal. Heck, if legislation were the answer, I would be the first one to bang on Congress' door with a five-hundred page "anti-stupidity" law proposal to put in the books. But new laws just aren't the answer. Education and responsibility are.

But there's no point in telling Washington that.

They're not listening anyhow.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:37 PM

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