Let's expand on the NRA's thought

BARRIE MAGUIRE
BARRIE MAGUIRE

Hiring more police is expensive, but there are other ways to keep guns away from "bad" people.

Posted: January 06, 2013

When Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he was really onto something.

That is, if he recognizes there are two sides of his equation. You can increase the number of "good" guys like cops on the street, or you can reduce the number of "bad" guys who get their hands on guns. Of course, you can do both.

Hiring more police takes lots of money, something local, state, and federal governments lack these days. But the NRA could lobby for far less costly measures that would make guns less accessible to the "bad" guys. Here are a few:

Expand the nation's background-check system. Under current federal law, gun dealers are required to do an instant background check to ensure potential buyers do not have a felony record or a history of drug use, domestic violence, or serious mental illness. But many guns are sold privately at gun shows, in homes, or, increasingly, online. No federal background check is required in those sales, allowing a huge number of guns to fall into the wrong hands. This loophole should be closed.

Update the data in the national background system. The records of people prohibited from buying or owning guns are supposed to be in the background-check system. But there are millions of such records that federal agencies and many states, including Pennsylvania, have not provided to the FBI, which administers the system. As a result, someone who has been determined by, say, Pennsylvania authorities to be ineligible to buy a gun because of a mental-health history might be able to buy one in Maryland because Pennsylvania has not put the proper record into the federal system. Maryland officials would then not know of the disqualifying record. Not a very neighborly thing to do.

The NRA should call on the Corbett administration to get those state records - reportedly 500,000 - into the system. (The Rendell administration, by the way, also failed to act.)

Require gun owners to report when their guns are lost or stolen. "Bad" guys often get their hands on stolen or lost guns. If gun owners were required to give law enforcement officials a heads-up once they realized a firearm was lost or stolen, that would, hopefully, help police track down the gun before it could be used in crime. The NRA, however, has fought such a measure in Pennsylvania. And when towns and cities - almost 40 throughout the state - passed such laws, the NRA tried - unsuccessfully so far - to enact legislation in Harrisburg that would punish those jurisdictions for simply trying to protect their residents.

Crack down on straw purchasers. One of the common ways the "bad" guys get guns is by buying them from straw purchasers. A straw purchaser is someone who is legally allowed to buy a gun who then turns around and sells it to a prohibited buyer - a "bad" guy. It's like selling a matchbook to an arsonist. And it's against the law. By arming the "bad" guys, straw purchasers, the scourge of Philadelphia, have wreaked havoc on our neighborhoods.

A few years ago, Pennsylvania created a gun-violence task force to crack down on illegal gun trafficking in Philadelphia. It combined the resources of the police and the offices of the attorney general and district attorney. By all accounts, it has done yeoman's work, but, with state cutbacks, its funding has been reduced by about 40 percent.

LaPierre should unleash his lobbyists to persuade legislators to restore the money as well as to replicate the task force in other cities. After all, the NRA's mantra is more enforcement, not more laws. Well, here's a way to help.

These are just a few ways the NRA can make it harder for a "bad guy" to get his hands on a gun. They are far less costly than arming every school with a heat-packing security guard. Each is a simple, logical safeguard that would pass Second Amendment muster. None would bar assault weapons or large ammunition magazines, though I think both should be outlawed.

But as long as the NRA stonewalls these sensible actions, it not only puts the "good" guys - our police, security guards, other first responders, schoolchildren - in harm's way, it aids and abets the "bad" guy.

Indeed, the NRA becomes one itself.


Phil Goldsmith is a former managing director of the city and has been active in efforts to reduce gun violence. E-mail him at pgold4110@gmail.com.

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