Considering the somewhat recent school shooting in Parkland, Fl and the 7026 Bill that was signed into law, I have been doing some thinking. You can only establish gun ‘control’ as much as you believe that you can control people. And, as many would agree, control is an illusion. People like to attach the phrase ‘common sense’ to the idea of more control/restrictions of gun purchases and ownership. But, how about the common-sense idea that bad people are going to do bad things; even if those things are illegal. The two factors that are trying to be controlled are the type of people and the type of weapon.
Controlling the type of weapon mostly happens at the State level. Some States have implemented restrictions on magazine capacity. Not how many magazines that one person may own, but on how many rounds of ammunition can be loaded into a single magazine. California has a required modification to the magazine release on an AR-type rifle that makes it not as accessible. Laws like these are in place with the idea that controlling the amount of available ammunition and/or the speed of reloading, makes the public safer. Keep in mind, these restrictions only apply to law abiding citizens.
Picture this scenario; four people decide that they are going to commit a home invasion. Mr. Law-Abiding citizen owns a weapon, but it only has 7 rounds of ammunition in it, per his State’s law. Accounting for some inaccuracy during an adrenaline-driven moment, Mr. Law-Abiding citizen manages to hit 2 of the attackers before running out of ammunition, as he and his wife scramble to their child’s bedroom. Then, because criminals do not follow the law and they are heavily armed, the remaining two intruders easily gain the upper hand. Here in Florida, recent legislation put a ban on Bump Stocks. “The term bump-fire stock means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semi-automatic firearm unassisted…”. In this instance, law makers have made an attempt to control how fast someone can fire weapon. You could line 5 people up at a shooting range, all holding the same weapon, and all five would have different speeds by which they can quickly pull the trigger. There are proficient shooters out there who are capable of firing a weapon faster without the use of an ‘accessory or device’, then perhaps a novice shooter could with the use of a modified weapon.
That said, on a Federal level, one can obtain an NFA Tax Stamp for the purchase/ownership of a Title II weapon. One subcategory of Title II is for fully automatic weapons. Laws, for the sake of making laws, does not solve anything. Banning bump stocks & accessories is relatively pointless if you can just circumvent it with a Federal Tax Stamp and own a fully automatic weapon. Don’t misunderstand me, I am by no means calling for a new law that goes after Title II weapons! Laws like these only make it more difficult for Mr. Law-Abiding citizen to legally own firearms. Criminals are going to obtain any weapon they choose, sans any laws.
Passing laws dictating which, where and how, law-abiding citizens may own weapons is an infringement and superfluous. A parallel to this would be making laws that restrict modifications to cars that make them go faster. All cars already have the capacity to drive faster than posted speed limits. The law here being the speed limit; you could break this law but operate the vehicle under the promise that you won’t. All weapons fire bullets that have the capacity to kill. Murder is illegal. We own and operate firearms under the promise that we will not kill people. A firearm is the same as a vehicle, an inanimate object that requires an operator. Blame can not be placed on an object. Blame is a verb. Verbs are actions, and inanimate objects can not perform an action.
People can. And, here-in lies the problem. There are people in this world that do not follow rules. Criminals do this with intention. There are others that are just plain irresponsible. And then there are those that are not mentally capable of the responsibility that comes with gun use and ownership. The Florida Bill 7026 that was signed into law attempts to address the concerns of firearms possession by those considered to be “undergoing a mental health crisis”. But if you read through the Bill, and I encourage everyone to do so, it is completely a retroactive solution. It only empowers law enforcement to take away weapons that are already owned by these individuals during an escalated situation. But it also puts the burden on the responding police officer to make a medical diagnosis. Something they are not trained to do. There is a large potential for a lot of Fourth Amendment violation law suits with this technique.
But what if there was a proactive solution? Something in place that blocked the purchase of firearms from individuals that have been medically diagnosed as being mentally defective or unstable. Such things as sociopathy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or dissociative identity disorder. Or perhaps an enforceable law that blocked those that have already been involuntarily committed to a mental institution from purchasing a firearm?
As a Pawn Broker, in a store that also sells firearms; the diagnosis of the stability of a customer wishing to purchase a firearm currently rests on our shoulders. And, we are no more capable than the police officers trying to accurately execute an ex parte order. On the application form (4473) for the purchase of a firearm there are a series of Yes/No questions that address some of these concerns. But during the purchase process there are no consequences for answering falsely. Next, we “run” the customer; meaning, we are submitting their identification through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The return response time can take anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 hours. This process is handled on a State/Federal level and checks to see if the buyer has a documented criminal history or any actively pending charges against them. There are three possible responses from the online system; Approval, Non-Approval or Conditional Non-Approval. The only response that allows us to finalize the purchase is an Approval response. But what about these instances, like the Parkland shooting, where the perpetrator has years of mental health problems leading up to the event? If they haven’t been convicted of a crime, yet, then they are still eligible to purchase a firearm. All they must do is put on a good face in a store for an hour and falsely answer a Yes/No question. System circumvented.
In 2013, shortly after the Newton, Conn school shooting, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) came up with the idea of comingling HIPAA with NICS. This idea was met head on by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and a whole host of other groups/organizations, citing that doctor patient confidentiality was of the highest importance. And that mandatory reporting to another organization would breach this trust. It wouldn’t be until January of 2016 that changes would be made to the existing HIPAA rules. But the changes are weak at best. The change in the HIPAA Privacy Rule only grants permission to medical care providers to report to NICS, it does mandate a requirement to report. Federal law identifies several categories of potential disqualifiers from gun purchases, known as “prohibitors” including a federal mental health prohibitor. But if none of the medical professionals in the State are bothering to report individuals presenting federal mental health prohibitors, then those people that should be disqualified from firearm purchases slip through the gaps. The Parkland shooter being the most recent example of this. There were years of mental health flags that went unchecked. Had there been mandatory reporting of federal mental health prohibitors, this individual would not have passed a background check at the time of purchase.
Perhaps the shooter would have acquired a weapon by some other means. After all, bad people intent on doing bad things typically do not care to what lengths they need to go to to get the outcome they want. But in the aftermath of these tragedies, the public likes to place blame. We already know blaming the weapon is futile. Then they want to blame the store that sold the weapon to the perpetrator. But this is not fair to the business owner of the store. They followed the law to the letter. So, whom or what is to ‘blame’?
Fault lies with the existing HHS laws open ended wording, and a complete lack of enforcement. We do not need new laws, we need to be cleaning up the ones we already have. Mandatory reporting of federal mental health prohibitors at the State level would give FFL dealers the tools they need to be sure they are selling a firearm to someone that is truly eligible. If we as a Country are hellbent on controlling something, then we need to be focusing our attention on who can purchase/own a firearm. Not trying to control size or function of a firearm.
If someone is found to not be operating a motor vehicle responsibly; we don’t give them a slower car, we take away their license! Aftermarket accessories for automobiles are very actively sold here in the US. There are no laws in place restricting the sales of double barreled carburetors. No restrictions on cylinder bore size. These parts are used for the purpose of making cars go faster, directly increasing their potential to kill. Speeding kills. We have controlled environments for speeding, called racetracks and motor speedways. And those people that wish to exercise the potential of their enhanced vehicle go to the track and enjoy going faster than would normally be permitted on the public streets. Firearms owners are no different. They enjoy having bigger and better toys. And, by the same practice, they travel to local shooting ranges to partake in the responsible use of their firearms.
Many objects hold the potential to do harm. But without interaction they are just objects, tools. Don’t just use the term “common sense” as verbiage in a talking point. Actually use it. Don’t look to restrict the rights of the many, based on the actions of a few. The weapon did not commit the crime. The person wielding it did. Let’s focus on limiting the access to those not responsible enough to own/handle firearms, so that we can reduce or eliminate the tragedies that follow behind these disturbed individuals.