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“Our Blind Spot About Guns”: Politicians Should Be As Rational About Guns As They Are About Motor Vehicles

If we had the same auto fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

Instead, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent — not by confiscating cars, but by regulating them and their drivers sensibly.

We could have said, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,” and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, “It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,” and that, too, would have been partly true.

Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America.

Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?

That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.

One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.

A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.

Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”

Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.

That continued in recent decades with requirements of seatbelts and air bags, padded dashboards and better bumpers. We cracked down on drunken drivers and instituted graduated licensing for young people, while also improving road engineering to reduce accidents. The upshot is that there is now just over 1 car fatality per 100 million miles driven.

Yet as we’ve learned to treat cars intelligently, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with guns. In his terrific new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that “gun control laws were ubiquitous” in the 19th century. Visitors to Wichita, Kan., for example, were required to check their revolvers at police headquarters.

And Dodge City, symbol of the Wild West? A photo shows a sign on the main street in 1879 warning: “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.”

The National Rifle Association supported reasonable gun control for most of its history and didn’t even oppose the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968. But, since then, most attempts at safety regulation have stalled or gone backward, and that makes the example of cars instructive.

“We didn’t ban cars, or send black helicopters to confiscate them,” notes Waldman. “We made cars safer: air bags, seatbelts, increasing the drinking age, lowering the speed limit. There are similar technological and behavioral fixes that can ease the toll of gun violence, from expanded background checks to trigger locks to smart guns that recognize a thumbprint, just like my iPhone does.”

Some of these should be doable. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 92 percent support for background checks for all gun buyers.

These steps won’t eliminate gun deaths any more than seatbelts eliminate auto deaths. But if a combination of measures could reduce the toll by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved every year.

A century ago, we reacted to deaths and injuries from unregulated vehicles by imposing sensible safety measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives a year. Why can’t we ask politicians to be just as rational about guns?

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 1, 2014

August 2, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“18 Year Olds Can Buy Handguns”: Easier To Buy Three Glocks Than A Case Of Bud

If you’re 18, the law says you can’t buy a handgun. But you can buy a handgun without breaking the law. This paradox exists thanks to a little-noticed manifestation of the so-called gun show loophole, which keeps government regulations out of private gun sales.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal for a gun dealer to sell handgun to anyone under the age of 21. “Sales of handguns and ammunition for handguns are limited to persons 21 years of age and older,” the ATF’s official Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide states. But the agency’s regulations only apply to federally licensed firearms dealers, not to non-professional private sellers.

“A high school senior in most states can go to a gun show, go online, or any other place that they might find a private seller and lawfully purchase a gun that they couldn’t otherwise at a gun dealer,” explained David Chipman, a former ATF special agent who now works with Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“That is correct,” confirmed George Semonick of the ATF. “Under federal law, it’s not unlawful for an 18-year-old to posses a handgun,” Semonick explained to Salon, though some states have their own age requirements for handgun possession.

While Congress will soon consider legislation to close the part of the private seller loophole that lets them sell guns without background checks, the handgun age restriction loophole has so far not been specifically addressed or even much noticed. “I’m shocked that the media hasn’t jumped on this,” Chipman told Salon.

But the Internet is way ahead of Washington (and the media) and can helpfully explain this nuance in the gun laws to anyone looking for answers. “How should I go about buying a pistol? I’m 18 years old?” one user asked on Yahoo’s question forum. There are plenty of informed responses: “You cannot buy from a dealer if you are under 21. You can buy from a private sale in many states, but not all states,” one read.

Another: “To be honest your best bet is to place a WTB [want to buy] classified, make sure you are up front about your age because lots of Face to Face sellers won’t sell to someone under 21.” A third: “Basically you have to put an ad in your paper saying you would like to purchase one of these or pick it up at a gun show.”

A separate user wrote that he or she had “heard from a lot of virginia residents that you can buy a gun at 18 years old in virginia at a gun show without a license i also know a couple of people that have bought from gun shows.”

The topic has come up on numerous gun forums as well, where commenters can give sophisticated explanations of the dichotomy between licensed dealers and private sellers. “I hate when people don’t know that you can sell a handgun to a 19 year old in a private purchase,” one commenter complained. Another responded: “Unfortunately, it will be very hard to convince something is legal if they feel it is illegal … All you can do is print out 18 USC 922(x) and the ‘providing firearms to juveniles or minors’ statutes in your state.”

It’s quite legal for a nonprofessional to sell it to the 18-to-20-year-old, and for the 18-to-20-year-old to buy it, even if the nonprofessional knows or suspects that the buyer is under 21,” wrote libertarian-leaning lawyer Eugene Volokh on his popular blog back in 2010. Volokh notes that while the 18-to-20-year-old “can’t have someone buy it specifically for him, since that would be conspiracy to make a false statement, given that the straw purchaser would have to falsely assert that the gun is for the straw purchaser himself,” he can buy it from a private seller. (Although, one 18-year-old in Pennsylvania found a state-specific loophole that let his father legally purchase a handgun for him.)

Laws vary from state to state and while some make it illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase or possess a handgun at all, others go by federal law, which deals only with sales from gun dealers. An 18-to-20-year-old cannot, however, obtain a concealed carry license in any state, as they all set the threshold at 21.

The ATF’s Semonick explained that this loophole sometimes creates unexpected complications. For instance, if an 18-year-old brings their legally purchased handgun into a gun store for repairs, the licensed dealer is not allowed to return the gun, as that would violent federal law prohibiting the transfer of a handgun from a dealer to someone under 21-years-old.

“As a law enforcement professional, this was one of my concerns,” former ATF agent Chipman said. “It shouldn’t be easier to go buy three Glocks than to buy a case of Bud. But that’s the case.”

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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