Keeping guns away from the most dangerous
Hooray! America has just set a new record. Want to guess what it is? Record-breaking high school math scores, you say? Nope. Maybe a record number of workers pulling themselves out of poverty, or a banner year for a decline in infectious diseases? No and no.
Here’s the news: On just one day last month, the citizenry of the United States filed the largest number of applications for an instant gun background check. Yup. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a record-breaking 203,086 of us weren’t just counting our blessings; we were asking the FBI to hurry up and approve our gun purchase.
So, who are these people? Were they simply exercising their Second Amendment right to own a firearm, or did some of them have more sinister motives?
There isn’t enough room in this column to include everything that needs to be said about gun ownership in America — both pro and con. And please understand this is not an attack on the constitutionally protected right to bear arms, so hold off on the angry emails. This is a call to take a close look at the criminal damage done by those who use guns to kill people.
Who are they? How can we identify them? And can we stop the most damaging shooters — the mass murderers — before they take innocent lives?
“You could think of domestic violence as a canary in the coal mine for future violence,” said Sarah Tofte of the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety.
The group’s analysis of the problem concludes that in 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, the gunman had a history of family or domestic violence that should have been viewed more seriously. Think about that. There were red flags of domestic abuse for more than half of mass shooters before they turned their gun on others. Tofte told Time magazine, “We may not know everything we need to know about why and when it reverberates outside the home, but we know that it does, and we’ve seen it over and over again.”
Yet only 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed gun-relinquishment laws that force those convicted of domestic violence and other violent offenders with restraining orders to hand over their firearms.
Could a determined offender get another gun illegally? Yes. That’s a different and difficult problem. But according to a study by Michigan State University, states that take guns from those with domestic-violence restraining orders have a 22 percent lower rate of intimate-partner homicide. Naturally, it is women and children who suffer the most.
Two decades ago, Congress passed the so-called Lautenberg Amendment that prohibited people from owning or buying a gun if they’ve been convicted of assaulting a spouse or child, or are under a permanent protective order. That is reported to have kept guns out of the hands of some 195,000 angry people. But over the years, the family dynamic has changed. Live-in partners, boyfriends, ex-spouses and convicted stalkers aren’t covered under that law.
Gee, I know Washington lawmakers are busy these days, but maybe they could find some time to update this?
You know what else would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people? The Department of Defense obeying the existing federal law requiring the military to report service members who are violent felons and domestic abusers convicted of crimes that disqualify them from owning guns.
Each branch of the service is supposed to pass on to the FBI the names of those with court-martialed convictions, so they can be added to the national gun background-check database. The DOD has ignored its own inspector general, who has been warning about this lapse since back in the 1990s. According to a 2015 report and another issued just weeks ago, nearly 1 in 3 military convicts who should be barred from gun ownership remains unknown to the FBI.
The most recent case in point is Devin Kelley. He was found guilty during a court-martial on two vicious domestic-abuse charges against his wife and infant stepson, and he had a history of violence against women. The Air Force never reported Kelley to the FBI for inclusion on the do-not-buy gun list. After serving time in a military prison and being discharged, the disgraced former airman bought more firearms and committed mass murder at a Texas church earlier this year. Twenty-six people died, and more than 20 others were wounded.
By the way, three cities (New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco) are now suing the Pentagon to force it to comply with the federal reporting law. It’s sad that the department tasked with ensuring national security has to be forced into action.
Every state and the U.S. Congress should pass laws that take away a violent convict’s right to own a gun. Common sense tells us that those who have perpetrated violence against others in the past should not be allowed to have the deadliest of weapons.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, “Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box,” is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.