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Gun Control Facts: Existing Gun Laws Would Reduce Crime, But These Are Not Enforced

The Obama administration has failed in gun control because it has failed to enforce existing gun laws.

In 2007, candidate Barack Obama said, "We know what to do. We've got to enforce the gun laws that are on the books." He also alluded to cracking down on straw man purchasers and "unscrupulous gun dealers." He continued to reiterate this view on the campaign trail in 2008, including calls for stronger background checks.

When President Obama addressed the people of Newtown, he asked, "can we honestly say that we're doing enough?" and answered, "If we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no. We're not doing enough," adding, "surely we can do better than this ... if there's even one step we can take to save another [life] … then surely we have an obligation to try." 

But President Obama has apparently forgotten the words of candidate Obama. President Obama would have to look no further than a mirror to see who is responsible for not doing "better than this." Strong enforcement of existing gun laws has not been a priority. CNN's John Avlon writes, "before the Newtown shootings, the Obama administration had not made enforcement of existing guns laws a political or policy priority" and cites Arkadi Gerney, an adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on illegal guns from 2006-11 who said, "during the Clinton administration there were efforts to fully enforce the gun laws we have."

Failing to fund NICS

During the Obama administration, Congress has failed to provide the necessary funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is the database checked during gun purchases to ensure individuals with criminal records & mental illness aren't allowed to purchase guns. In 2007, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, which created incentives for states to improve the reporting of mental health information into background check system. Yet many states have made little or no progress reporting largely because Congress failed to follow through with funding, granting just 5.3% of the total authorized amount from FY 2009 through FY 2011

NICS Funding FY 2009, 2010, 2011

Ensuring, for example, that NICS has the mental health data that includes documentation of whether an individual has been involuntarily committed, has strong bipartisan support. Yet state reporting of such data has a long way to go; 19 states have provided fewer than 100 records of individuals disqualified on mental health grounds since the implementation of NICS in the early 1990s. This should be a "no-brainer." A poll released in January 2010 showed 90% of gun owners’ support addressing such gaps. This is a prime example of not enforcing the existing laws, which candidate Obama said we need to do. This is where the administration is failing to "do enough."

Prosecute people who falsify background check information
The Obama Administration Justice Department is also not strongly enforcing prosecutions of people who falsify information on their gun background checks. The FBI reported 71,000 instances of people lying on their background checks to buy guns in 2009. But the Justice Department prosecuted a mere 77 cases, or a fraction of 1%.

There's no good reason to not enforce this law and prosecute violators. This also has strong support, with 99% of non-NRA member gun owners and 95% of NRA members expressing support for punishing traffickers to the full extent of the law. This is another area where the Obama Administration can "do better."

The irony is that gun rights advocates have argued for years that it's not that more gun laws are needed, but that the existing laws need to be better enforced. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, "gun-rights activists [have] been saying for years and years [that] the existing laws should be enforced more effectively and proactively." In line with that, the NRA backed the 2007 NICS Improvement Amendments Act that President Bush signed into law.

Straw Man purchases & Illegal gun trafficking
Another area the Obama administration could enforce existing laws is prosecuting straw man purchases and illegal gun trafficking. The FBI states gangs engage in illegal guns trafficking (as well as narcotics). The ATF defines straw man as using another person to acquire a firearm specifically when the end user is prohibited from acquiring the firearm. "That is to say, the actual purchaser is a felon or is within one of the other prohibited categories of persons who may not lawfully acquire firearms." The straw purchaser violates federal law by making false statements on Form 4473.

Enforcing these existing laws is "common sense" and should be the "common sense" measures pursued, but President Obama has failed to take action. As noted in my previous article, rifles – which include bolt-action, semi-automatic, and so-called "assault rifles" - account for roughly 350 homicides that last few reported years (2.55-2.75% of homicides). Handguns account for nearly half of all homicides, or 6,009 out of 12,996 in 2010 (46%)and 6,501 out of 13,752 in 2009 (47%). Note that when candidate Obama referenced enforcing the current laws, he mentioned both mass shootings like Virginia Tech (in which the shooter was diagnosed with mental illness, but this information was not put into NICS in a timely manner, thereby allowing the shooter to buy guns legally) and less-sensational street crime, citing children "gunned down" in Chicago. 

President Obama addressing the people of Newtown said, "are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage?" President Obama is not in fact powerless to make enforcement a priority. If he is serious about reducing crime, homicides and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons, then enforcement of these laws should be a priority.

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