Guest Column: Response to Eric Sonnenberg

We’d not expect Mr. Sonnenberg, an FFL gun dealer, NOT to want guns in the hands of every man, woman and child—including the baby in Illinois, 10 months old, who got his firearm owner’s ID card just recently, listing his height (2 feet, 3 inches), weight (20 pounds) and complete with a headshot—his toothless baby picture—on it.

(It wasn’t a mistake. The boy’s dad, a columnist for The (Tinley Park, Ill.) Daily Southtown, paid the $5 fee and filled out the application.)

I’m not anti-gun, but I am anti-nonsense, as when Mr. Sonnenberg compares a Chevy (drunk driver hits someone) to a gun (in the hands of some off-kilter guy allowed to buy one and kill a bunch of people). Between 2004 and 2005, gun crime surged almost 50 percent, the largest increase in 14 years.

Gun dealers, even the responsible ones, DO supply mass murderers, as we learned at Virginia Tech. “A gun shop has no way of knowing (a handgun buyer’s) intent or that of any other maniac hell bent on causing this kind of destruction,” Sonnenberg says.

Those 32 people died because a gunman who had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and deemed a “danger to himself and others by a judge” was still able to buy two handguns, no questions asked, because no information about his mental condition showed up in his federal background check. The killer bought a 9mm Glock 19 and a .22 caliber Walther pistol, both semi-automatics, which allow the shooter to rapidly fire a shot with each pull of the trigger as opposed to having to manually cock the weapon between shots.

Isn’t that yet another wake-up call that buying guns in this country has become far too easy?

A troubled young man goes on a shooting spree and kills 32 people. Even louder than the gunfire is the sound of people like Mr. Sonnenberg using it to ratchet up the cry to increase the number of Americans carrying guns. Handguns, unlike Chevy automobiles, have one purpose—maiming and killing.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors who deal with crime on a daily basis have wanted to inject some sanity into some of the gun traffic—notably, the 1994 law banning certain military-style assault weapons. But they don’t have the political clout, and soon the NRA wins the day.

After all these years, legal scholars are not as certain as the NRA pretends to be of what the founding fathers meant in the Second Amendment.

Federal crime data show that large quantities of crime guns transfer quickly from licensed gun dealers into the hands of criminals.

Most guns used in crimes trace back to a relatively small number of bad-apple dealers. Sixty percent of guns recovered in crimes turn out to have been purchased from 1 percent of the nation’s gun dealers, and even when a dealer is exposed, punishment is rare.

The pending Schumer-McCarthy NICS Improvement Act, would give states reason and help to send more information to the federal database consulted in background checks—a no-brainer.

When someone tries to buy a gun, the individual is checked through the National Instant Criminal Background, or “NICS” system, for any record that would prohibit the purchase. Most potential gun buyers are either approved or denied almost instantly.

But a criminal background check is only as good as the records that the states provide to the system. Millions of criminal and mental health records are not currently accessible to the NICS system, mostly because states and local governments lack the money to submit the records and because no law requires states to share all information that might prohibit a person from getting a gun. That’s why so many people who shouldn’t have guns can—like the Virginia Tech shooter—so easily buy them.

Schumer/McCarthy would provide funding and huge incentives to states to help them automate their criminal history records and provide information to the FBI regarding any individual who is barred from having a gun.

Cannot Mr. Sonnenberg and other gun enthusiasts sense that we make it too easy for too many whose intentions are questionable to obtain dangerous weapons quickly in this country?

Mr. Sonnenberg suggests that we all need a gun to protect our families.

A better idea would be to strengthen our system of background checks. That would have saved 32 lives at Virginia Tech. And that would be a small step toward making our communities and our country safer.

Gary Haynes is a resident of Oregon, Ill.

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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