Addressing Violence Without Trampling On Gun Rights

(AP Photo/Philip Kamrass, File)

Violent crime has surged over the last year or two. This comes after decades of decline. For many, this is evidence that we need gun control. Obviously, I disagree and so do a lot of people.

However, most of us agree that violent crime, particularly that using a firearm, needs to be addressed.

When folks like you or I address gun control, though, we’re often asked what should be done to address the issue.

That’s what Washington Examiner editor Jay Caruso wanted to address. One of his suggestions is something I think is workable, even in our current political environment.

Second, prosecute straw purchasers with more vigor. That raises a problem. Currently, there are no federal laws addressing straw purchases directly. The ATF and Justice Department are limited to investigating and prosecuting charges related to giving false statements on a federal form.

Line 21a of Form 4473 asks, “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form and any continuation sheet(s) (ATF Form 5300.9A)?” If a person answers affirmatively despite knowing he’s going to give the gun over to a friend who couldn’t pass a background check, that is a federal offense. However, it carries minimal punishment. For example, a case of straw purchasing in Virginia netted two people restricted from owning firearms (they were convicted felons) 27 to 48 months in federal prison. The actual straw purchasers received only 45 days and home confinement. The lack of stringent penalties minimizes the risk. After all, it’s easier to convince someone to steal a pack of gum than to rob a bank.

Richard Marianos, a professor at Georgetown University and 27-year veteran of the ATF, including most recently as assistant director in the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs, told the Washington Examiner there must be more focus on straw purchases and the federally licensed firearms dealers that openly allow straw purchases, or at least look the other way when they know it’s going on.

“One way would be to allow agents, with reasonable suspicion — not probable cause — to enter a gun shop and ask to see their records,” Marianos said.

Marianos outlined three points critical to the investigation and successful prosecution of straw purchasers:

  1. Resources. The ATF annual budget is a mere $1.4 billion out of nearly $5 trillion, which is lower than the Secret Service budget.
  2. Planning. A new strategy is needed to deal with gun violence that includes input not only from gun control advocates but also Second Amendment proponents.
  3. Personnel. The ATF currently employs under 1,800 special agents across the country. By comparison, the Secret Service has 3,200 special agents.

“Over 80% of the guns used in violent crimes are attributed to straw purchases,” Marianos said.

I’d really love to see Marianos’ data for that claim, but we can agree that straw purchases are a problem. Giving the law some teeth and making it possible for the ATF to actually go after those who commit straw buys more vigorously.

In addition, I’d add going after those who attempt to purchase a firearm despite being legally unable to do so. What happens in many cases is that when their background check fails, they talk someone else into buying the gun for them. Often, that’s the first stage of a straw buy, but trying to buy a gun when you’re a felon is a crime in and of itself, though it’s rarely prosecuted.

Change that and you’ll start to see criminals having a harder time buying guns.

It won’t go away, because, despite Marianos’ claim, I’m unconvinced that straw buys represent that high a percentage. A large number of criminals have said they buy guns on the black market, after all, but we do know straw buys to also be an issue.

Let’s start there before we talk about banning weapons, restricting magazines, or any of a thousand other measures.

What’s more, there should be near-universal support for this. If there isn’t, particularly from Democrats, then we’ll know that it’s not about reducing crime in any way, shape, or form.

 

May 16, 2021 8:30 AM ET