Gun rights aren't the issue

A boy holds a sign during a gun violence protest near City Hall last month.
A boy holds a sign during a gun violence protest near City Hall last month. (DAVID MAIALETTI /Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 17, 2013

By Nancy Robinson

Vice President Biden and President Obama have a real opportunity to reduce gun violence, and it doesn't require banning assault weapons. Although the debate following the Newtown shootings immediately turned to assault rifles, those weapons have little to do with the vast majority of gun deaths in America.

Every year, the city of Bridgeport, Conn., less than 30 miles from Newtown, buries as many people due to violence as were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day. In 2010, 1,773 young people were victims of homicide in the United States; 67 of them were elementary-school age. Year after year, gun violence - not diabetes, auto accidents, or drug abuse - is the No. 1 cause of death for young African American men and boys.

As a child safety advocate, I've seen firsthand the trauma, terror, and devastation caused by gun violence that doesn't make national headlines: the double funeral of a teen and his grandmother, who suffered a fatal heart attack when she learned her grandson had been shot and killed; the open casket of a 2-year-old buried the way he died, in his mother's arms.

Most violent gun crimes on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and every other major and midsize U.S. city are committed with handguns by felons and minors who do not have a Second Amendment right to possess them. These guns are being pumped into urban communities, and into the hands of people who can't get them legally, by a gun-trafficking "iron pipeline."

We need to be asking, Where do the guns come from? This is a question we can answer and do something about.

There are three common sources of illegal guns: gun shows; crooked or negligent gun dealers; and straw purchasers, who buy guns on behalf of others. Here's how we can shut down the iron pipeline and save lives without infringing on the Second Amendment:

Fix background checks: Loopholes in existing law allow felons, minors, and the mentally ill to buy firearms at gun shows without undergoing a background check. Gun sellers even advertise that fact. It's how the Columbine teens got most of their guns.

Congress should pass a law requiring that all gun buyers be cleared by a criminal-background check. Can't pass a check? Can't buy a gun.

Hold dealers accountable: Most licensed gun dealers are law-abiding. But a small minority consistently flouts the law. (It's been estimated that illegal sales account for 20 percent of gun-industry profits.) The Washington snipers got their gun from a dealer who was cited for serious violations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

We need to strengthen the ATF's ability to trace guns used in crimes, share data, inspect gun dealers, and revoke the licenses of those who consistently break the law to arm criminals.

Reduce exploitation of women as straw purchasers: Women are easy prey for gun traffickers. They are often pressured, bribed, and coerced into buying, hiding, and holding guns for men who can't get them legally. We must raise awareness of the risks and consequences of straw purchasing and ensure that domestic-violence organizations, homeless shelters, and health professionals have tools to address this problem.

The students I work with in urban neighborhoods face the constant threat of dying prematurely from guns sold illegally on the streets. They're reminding us that every child's life matters.


Nancy Robinson is executive director of Citizens for Safety. She can be reached at nancyrob@comcast.net.

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