Point

We need to do something

By Randall Poulton | Aug 22, 2019

The recent mass murders in "Michigan and Houston" have rekindled the smoldering debate about “gun control.”  Polls suggest most people think we need to do something to stop bad people, especially those intent on mass murder, from obtaining firearms.

At this point, I will support a ban on large-capacity magazines and a “red flag” law, the latter representing, by far, the most likely to help curtail the slaughter of innocents. I will not support expanded background checks, but we do need to fix the system we already have. Here is my thinking on each:

Large-capacity magazines are not needed for traditional hunting activities or for personal protection. Out of the box, most rifles and shotguns are built to carry six or seven rounds. If I cannot bag my deer, or stop an intruder, with the first few shots, it seems unlikely a dozen more will help. However, since there are already millions of large-capacity magazines on the street, I doubt banning the sale of new “banana clips” will help much.

Creating a red flag law may be more effective. Our legal system already recognizes some people should not have guns. For example, if you are convicted of a felony, you are considered a “prohibited person” and thereafter banned from buying or possessing firearms.

A red flag law would allow a court of law, without due process, to order the temporary seizure of all firearms belonging to a person the court deems dangerous. This is a slippery slope. But, I support it, because history tells us that many of the recent mass murderers were known to be ticking time bombs, including:

- NC, the 19-year-old shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School (17 dead). NC was a known troublemaker and his aunt actually called the FBI to warn them that NC wanted to shoot up a school. The FBI did not follow up.

- DR, the 21-year-old shooter at the Charleston Church (nine dead). DR was well known to local police and should not have passed the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and thus should have been prohibited from buying the murder weapon. The FBI later admitted they screwed up (again).

- DK, the 26-year-old shooter at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church (26 dead). DK had a history of violence that began in high school (seven suspensions) and continued during his time in the Air Force. Unfortunately, the Air Force forgot to report DK’s criminal behavior to the National Crime Information Database, and thus he, too, passed the NICS background check (another screw-up).

Had there been a red flag law, it seems likely that at least some of these killers would have been disarmed before they began shooting.

So, what about expanding background checks? Today, if you want to buy a firearm at a store or gun shop, you must pass the NICS background check. That is the law. As the cases above demonstrate, this system is fallible. Sometimes dangerous people get a clean finding and purchase guns. We need to fix that.

I do not favor “expanding” background checks to include casual sales. First of all, no mass murderer has ever bought his weapon at a gun show. Secondly, if you are a prohibited person, and want a gun, there are guns to be had on the street. No questions asked. Third, as Maine voters recently learned, with expanded background checks, the devil is in the details. Consider these scenarios:

- Suppose I want to lend a firearm to a friend. Do we both need to meet at a licensed gun dealer and have the dealer run a background check on my buddy? Who pays the $25 fee for that check? And, what happens when my friend is ready to return the gun? More checks and more fees? Not workable.

- Suppose I want to give my late father’s hunting rifle to my wife’s brother’s young son. Would giving away Dad’s gun, to carry on a family “deer camp” tradition, require a background check(s)? You can imagine the questions: Who bought this rifle? When? Where? How did you get it? Why are you giving it away? Before it was done, both my brother-in-law and I would be subject to expensive background checks. The Feds might even want to exhume Dad to see what he has to say. Not workable.

P.S. The reference to mass murders in “Houston and Michigan” is courtesy of a slightly confused Joe “Buy a Shotgun” Biden. My use of his gaff was not intended, in any way, to diminish the horror of what happened in Dayton and El Paso.

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

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