How many laws will it take to stop the illegal use of firearms? Some believe the answer is “just one more.” We have so many laws and regulations now, no one can say with any certainty how many are on the books (local-state-federal).
We have heard a low-end estimate of 300 firearms rules (Brookings Institute – state and federal only) and a high-end approximation of 20,000.
What good are laws if they are not enforced? America’s poor enforcement of existing gun laws and lackadaisical approach in handling people prone to violent actions have been major contributors to the illegal use of firearms. Before we create another feel-good firearms law, we must address current laws that are poorly applied and enforced.
Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho should not have been able to buy a gun due to a history of mental illness. The correct records were never sent to the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).
Dylann Roof, the Charleston, South Carolina, shooter should have failed a background check, but his criminal record was not submitted in a timely manner as prescribed by federal guidelines, so he did not appear in NICS either.
Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooter Devin Kelley was court-martialed and received a bad conduct discharge (domestic assault) from the U.S. Air Force, which disqualified him from owning a firearm. Yet the Air Force never submitted his records for entry into the NICS database.
Cho, Roof and Kelley all purchased firearms from legal dealers, not in some back alley. Each dealer ran the prescribed background checks, and even though the law dictates each of these killer’s names be entered into NICS, thereby preventing the sale, the system failed.
Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland school shooter, is the latest example of inaction and incompetence. Documented signs of mental illness manifested in anti-social and violent behavior. There were more than 30 sheriff calls in response to violent criminal behavior, yet no arrest and no NCIS entry. Two credible tips were made to the same sheriff's office that Cruz threatened to carry out a school shooting, and were ignored. The FBI was informed a YouTube user with the username "nikolas cruz" had posted a message about wanting to be a school shooter, but the FBI could not identify the user so the case was closed.
The FBI also received a tip Cruz had made a death threat (a felony). The information was never forwarded to the local FBI office in January 2018, one month before the shooting. After all of this, the best we could do is place Cruz in a failed “diversion” program. The wolf was known to us, yet we allowed it to move among the sheep.
Countless laws, opportunity after opportunity ignored, and 84 people died because of four violent criminals and a failed system. We can’t enforce laws on the books now, so adding more is not the answer. Especially if new laws may be just as ineffective, and in some cases deny a person due process, the cornerstone of our American justice system. Laws such as “red flag” decrees.
Gun control advocates have wanted red flag laws for some time, not because they are necessarily effective, but because they play on society’s fears, are vague in conception and application (making them easy to abuse), and provide a way to seize firearms with little oversight. Many point to Cruz as someone we may have been able to stop using red flags laws, ignoring the countless opportunities to stop him if we enforced existing laws.
Instead, we looked the other way or pussyfooted around effective enforcement, including arresting him for any of his criminal offenses. NICS only works if the person is in the system. Cruz, Roof, Cho and Kelley should have been in NICS, period.
Too many people want firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, while wanting an enforcement mechanism that handles these offenders with “kid gloves” as we did with Cruz. We need to be determined in our enforcement, especially with violent youthful offenders. Not because we want to ruin their lives (which some people seem more concerned with than the lives of innocent victims), but to place them in a supervised track, which may include detention and treatment. When an individual commits a violent crime, they are afforded due process, while a red flag law’s due process is thrown out the window.
Some may say “but, Jeff it is for our own safety.” The same can be said about every other firearms law, but the big difference with most of those laws is that due process was still afforded the defendant. Red flag laws are a direct assault on the foundational liberties vital to us as citizens.
I want to acknowledge the scant data we have on red flag laws currently in effect is that they may (or may not) be effective in reducing suicides. Considering this would not apply to shooters such as Cruz, Roof, Cho and Kelley, and without sounding insensitive, to create a law that attacks due process in an effort to prevent suicide is misguided and excessive. I would be in favor of a state and/or federal provision that permits a person to voluntarily surrender their right to possess or buy firearms. The provision is being tried in Washington State. Upon application, the person’s name is entered into NICS. I worry about potential abuse or coercion, but that is for the individual to determine, and does not affect the rights lawful firearms owners.
We can find common ground, but not if that common ground is to create more ineffective laws or pass laws that destroy due process.
Jeff Chidester was raised in Portsmouth and is a lifelong resident of New Hampshire. He is a radio host and political analyst for iHeart Radio – NH, which can be heard on WQSO - 96.7 FM and New WGIR - 610 AM. You can find out more about Jeff at www.jeffchidester.com and you can email him at email@example.com.