This is the 2nd post in an ongoing series. You can find the first post, You and Guns, or The Beginning, here.
Good morning firedogs, and happy Tuesday!
Last week we looked at statistics pertaining to your personal safety in the presence of a firearm. We also took a brief look at how prevalent firearms are in American society. This week I’d like to examine one of the central issues that finds its way into any gun control conversation – accessibility and availability.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Who is allowed to own a gun?
The short answer to this question is darn near everyone. An individual 21 or older can acquire a handgun, and an individual 18 or older can acquire a rifle or shotgun, from a Federally licensed firearm dealer in any state. An individual 18 or older can purchase a handgun in a private transaction.
The better question to ask is ‘Who isn’t allowed to own a gun?’. The following is a list of prohibited persons (thanks Wiki!) according to Federal Firearms Law.
- Those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors except where state law reinstates rights, or removes disability.
- Fugitives from justice.
- Unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drugs.
- Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution and currently containing a dangerous mental illness.
- Non-US citizens, unless permanently immigrating into the U.S. or in possession of a hunting license legally issued in the U.S.
- Illegal Aliens.
- Those who have renounced U.S. Citizenship.
- Minors defined as under the age of eighteen for long guns and under the age of twenty-one for handguns, with the exception of Vermont, eligible at age sixteen.
- Persons convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
- Persons under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year are ineligible to receive, transport, or ship any firearm or ammunition.
Well that seems like a pretty comprehensive list. It would appear that if you’re a crazy person, a convict, a domestic abuser, a kid, or under indictment, you can’t get a gun. These are great laws. The problem arises when it comes time to enforce the laws. On the front lines of firearms retail, what is being done to prevent individuals who fall into the above categories from obtaining a gun?
Let’s take a look at the typical process of buying a firearm.
I’ve composed two narratives. I find narratives easier to read than hard analysis. The following two stories are theoretical scenarios based on current law and documented problems (see here, here, and here).
Chad, the Law-Abiding Everyman
Chad wants to purchase a semi-automatic varmint rifle. Chad is a responsible, upstanding citizen who has never been in any trouble. He’s a proud Texan, a Longhorn fan, a real estate agent, and a 3 handicap at the local golf course. Chad happens to have a problem with various rodents on his property, and wants to be able to dispatch them from a distance.
Chad spends some time researching different firearms on the internet and decides to purchase a Ruger 10/22 .22LR Carbine Autoloading Rifle. These rifles are readily available, ammunition is cheap and effective for Chad’s planned use, and these rifles have gained a great reputation over the years for durability and reliability. There are a wide array of accessories for the 10/22, including extended 30 round magazines and tactical stocks and grips. The 10/22 can accommodate a telescopic sight, which will perfectly suit Chad’s needs.
Chad heads over to his local sporting goods store and approaches the firearms counter. A friendly clerk shows Chad the available 10/22, which Chad finds agreeable. The clerk asks Chad for his Driver’s license and proceeds to fill out ATF form 4473. This form is then fed into a computer and the data is used to run a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check at the Federal level. Chad’s background check of course comes up clear, and 15 minutes later he’s leaving the store with his 10/22 and 500 rounds of .22LR hollow-point ammunition. Chad’s total purchase runs $250 including taxes.
Chad is now the happy owner of a semi-automatic rifle and 500 rounds of hollow-point ammunition.
Brad, the Diagnosed Schizophrenic
Brad wants to purchase a semi-automatic handgun for personal protection. Brad is currently living with his mother, and is under the care of a psychiatrist after having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Brad hears and sees things at times, and has some trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Brad was recently committed to a mental health institution for a week after admitting to his psychiatrist that he sometimes thinks about hurting himself.
Brad, after spending a day at the shooting range with a friend, decides that it’d be a great idea to own a gun. Firing a gun made him feel powerful and confident. Maybe, if Brad owns a gun, he won’t be so scared all the time!
Brad does some research on the internet and decides that what he needs is a Glock 19 9mm Safe-Action pistol. Glocks are very popular, very reliable, and the ammunition is relatively inexpensive and widely available.
Brad heads over to his local sporting goods store and approaches the firearms counter. A friendly clerk shows Brad the available Glock 19, which Brad finds agreeable. The clerk asks Brad for his Driver’s license and proceeds to fill out ATF form 4473. This form is then fed into a computer and the data is used to run an NICS background check, just like with Chad! Now, Brad lives in Texas, where mental health records reporting to the NICS is authorized by law. Brad’s psychiatrist has reported Brad’s condition through the appropriate channels. The NICS check comes back as a ‘denial’, and the friendly clerk apologizes to Brad and explains that Brad cannot purchase a firearm. Down but not out, Brad heads home.
Once back at the house, Brad does some more internet research. He turns up the information that gun shows feature large numbers of private sellers that are not required by law to run an NICS background check! Brad clicks around his search engine of choice, sees that there is a large gun show in his area that coming weekend, and makes plans to go.
At the gun show, Brad finds a seller with the same model Glock 19 for sale, along with ammunition. After some haggling, Brad leaves with his new Glock 19 and 100 rounds of ammunition. Brad’s total purchase runs $600. There is no NICS background check. The seller does not even ask Brad for ID.
Had Brad been a convicted felon or domestic abuser, these events could have transpired in exactly the same way.
The above, again, are theoretical scenarios. Current law allows the transfer of firearms between private individuals without a background check. Laws vary by state, and some are far stricter than others. The ‘Brad’ story above is not possible in many states.
These scenarios are not meant to illustrate the flawed ‘Gun Show Loophole’, but are meant to illustrate how easy it is to obtain a firearm in this country. The ‘Gun Show Loophole’ is the best known problem when it comes to accessibility, but by no means the only one. Firearms are accessible and available to any individual that is determined to own one. Whether this purchase takes place through proper retail channels, through an anonymous gun show transaction, or through a shady back-alley dealing with a criminal, there is always a way to purchase a gun in America.
I’ve exceeded my self-imposed word count again. For those of you that have read this far, thank you! Last week I promised to not only touch on accessibility today, but also how other countries approach gun control. Next week’s post will cover this topic, and will be an easier read. Trust me, I’m heading somewhere with all of this. I’m not sure where yet but I’ll get there. I hope you, dear reader, come along for the ride.
As always with Over Easy, off topic is totally safe. I know some firedogs don’t want to focus on gun control, so please feel free to converse on whatever topic you’d like. I’ll join in!
I’ll see you in the comments.
photo by M Glasgow via Flickr