Gun advocates are throwing around a lot of rhetoric and data about guns and violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, but the majority of it does not stand up to scrutiny. One major fallacy is that gun laws do not work. Gun advocates are using distorted figures and lies to argue that since our existing gun laws are not working, we should have fewer such laws and more guns on hand.
The lies should end now.
The strongest gun laws in the United States are piecemeal acts put into place by states. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based group that provides legal expertise for gun violence prevention, California actually has the nation’s strongest gun laws. Critics point to the high number of gun-related deaths in the state and call them proof that these laws don’t work. But this simple-minded reading of the numbers does not delve far enough into the realities of this complex system of laws and regulations to prove that the state’s laws aren’t working.
Yes, there are a lot of deaths in California from gun violence. But the percentage of the deaths attributable to gun violence is equal or below that of many other states, especially those with fewer restrictions. The center points out that many of the guns used to commit crimes in states with strict gun laws were actually purchased outside of the state or stolen. Thus, the real need is for stronger federal weapons laws. Gun control in California is obviously weakened if residents can simply drive over to Nevada, purchase firearms, ammunition or gun parts that are illegal here, and then bring them back across state lines. The coverage gaps between state laws are big enough to drive semi-trucks full of military-grade weapons through.
A perfect example of the effectiveness of gun laws is the state of Hawaii. That state has some of the country’s strictest gun laws and, as an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is perhaps the hardest state to transport out-of-state weapons to. Hawaii had the country’s lowest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 residents in 2011, FBI data show.
One huge need is for a federal registry of stolen firearms — a recommendation close to one from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Secondhand dealers should be required to check any weapon against this list to reduce the flow of ill-gotten weapons through our society. Such a registry would allow law enforcement to quickly determine where a criminal’s weapons came from — a check now often too cumbersome to do except in the most serious of circumstances. That ability also would provide the data necessary to permanently determine the effectiveness of gun control.
The idea that the state is the proper level at which to regulate weapons possession dates back to the time when guns were transported by horse and wagon. However, since the popularization of the automobile, the flow of weapons has changed, and gun laws have not kept pace. Within a matter of hours, a firearm bought legally in one state can be transported to another place where it is illegal. And federal laws on the books have not even begun to close the loopholes that exist due to the ability to purchase weapons on the Internet.
Gun laws work. Now is the time to pass and enforce stronger federal gun laws to close the loopholes that result in the annual deaths of thousands of Americans due to gun violence.