I’m piggybacking off my earlier post about universal background checks on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, inspired by this op-ed by gun control activist Josh Fleitman of Ceasefire PA that claims to offer an “innoculation” against gun violence. In reality, Fleitman’s merely putting forth stale and tired ideas that would impose new restrictions and criminal penalties on legal gun owners, while doing little to nothing to prevent any violent crimes. Instead of a miracle cure or a vaccination against violence, Fleitman’s flinging snake oil at the readers of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, promising amazing results from his gun control agenda if only Republicans in charge of the statehouse in Harrisburg would listen.
Fleitman’s “Common Agenda” consists of three gun control proposals, beginning with (shocker) universal background checks.
Universal background checks. Current state law already requires background checks for most gun sales, with one glaring loophole: the private sale of long guns such as shotguns and military-style semi-automatic assault rifles, which are most commonly used in mass shootings and attacks on police officers. This type of policy to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands is supported by 88% of Pennsylvania voters.
Already the inanity of Fleitman’s proposal should be evident to most of the paper’s readers. Private sales of handguns are already covered under Pennsylvania’s background check laws, yet they’re the gun most often used in crime. If a background check requirement was enough to “prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands,” I doubt that Philadelphia would have had 499 homicides last year. Requiring background checks on the private transfers of long guns will be no more effective at preventing crime that the background check laws already on the books, because criminals won’t obey the new law any more than they’re paying attention to the current one.
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPO). An ERPO empowers family members and law enforcement officers to go through a civil court proceeding with full due process protections to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms when they are an imminent risk to themselves or others. States that have passed such laws have seen declines in suicides and mass shootings.
Fleitman claims that “red flag” laws offer full due process protections, but that’s only true if you believe that having your guns seized and then getting to appear in court a couple of weeks later to try to prove you’re not a threat is truly protecting your rights. ERPOs have been in place in Connecticut and Indiana for nearly 20 years, and while both states have seen a small decline in the number of gun-related suicides, the overall suicide rate in both states has actually increased. Red flag laws don’t actually address the problem of people who truly pose a danger to themselves or others; they simply allow for any legally owned guns of theirs to be seized, leaving them with their knives, pills, matches, gasoline, and anything they might use to cause someone harm.
Requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. An estimated 43,768 firearms were stolen in Pennsylvania between 2012 and 2017. Yet state law doesn’t require that these guns be reported to police. Lost and stolen guns appeal to those who cannot pass a background check and are the weapon of choice for criminals due to their difficulty to track. Reporting these missing weapons would help police to get illegal guns off the streets and interrupt straw purchasing schemes.
Fleitman never says how Pennsylvania gun owners who are the victim of a theft aren’t reporting their guns stolen, but he’d like to criminalize anyone who can’t provide a complete accounting within 48 hours of discovering that their guns had been taken from them. Supposedly this would crack down on straw purchases, but he never explains how it would do that. In actuality, straw purchasers could indemnify themselves by simply reporting a gun stolen after they give it to the person they bought it for. The number of prosecutions for straw purchases has been on the rise since Republican lawmakers attached a mandatory five-year prison sentence upon conviction. There’s no need to try to turn crime victims into criminals themselves if they can’t detail every firearm stolen from their collection.
Virtually every one of Fleitman’s proposals creates a brand new, non-violent criminal offense that could easily be used against legal gun owners yet has little actual value in preventing violent crime. Fleitman’s focus is on the gun, not the violence, which is a big part of the problem. He’s still convinced that we can ban and arrest our way to safety if we just put enough gun control laws on the books, when the truth is that we have to deal with the relatively few individuals who are driving the violence instead. A snake oil solution is no solution at all.
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