Tuesday, January 22, 2019
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A Strange Silence On Gun Crimes

New York Times

LAST year, at least 117,407 Americans who were barred by law from buying a gun nevertheless tried to purchase one from a licenced dealer. These people had been convicted of domestic violence, another violent crime or a drug offence; had been committed to a mental hospital or found to be mentally unfit; or met other criteria that would have gotten them flagged in the national database used for instant background checks.
When you're on that list, lying about it in order to buy a gun is a federal felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Yet of the thousands of denials referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, federal prosecutors pursued charges in only 20 cases in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available, according to a government audit. And the ATF apparently didn't do much else with the information. For example, in cases of domestic abuse, it rarely, if ever, notified the victims that their abusers were trying to arm themselves.
Why so little action? The ATF has focused on terrorism at home since 9/11. Plus, it has only 2,600 agents to cover the United States. By contrast, to patrol its 70 square miles, Washington, DC, has about 3,900 police officers.
For the ATF, running down every lead is simply not a priority nor, probably, is it feasible. The Justice Department could help, by setting national guidelines to prosecute more of these cases. Former ATF personnel say the agency will put resources only toward cases that it's confident the Department of Justice will prosecute, which isn't many right now. But this information matters a great deal to state and local law enforcement agencies, and the federal law should require that the FBI also send it directly to them. If someone is motivated enough to lie to a licenced gun store, it stands to reason the person will be motivated enough to obtain a weapon by some other means.
"The fact that they're willing to ignore the law and arm themselves, their only intent can be criminal mischief, and they're going to get that weapon somehow," Louis Dekmar, the chief of police in LaGrange, Georgia, said."That's a danger to the community, and it's a danger to officer safety. They've done the cost-benefit analysis, and if they're confronted by law enforcement, with the potential to go back to prison, they aren't going to hesitate before shooting."
In most states, whenever someone fails a background check, the only place that information goes, in all but a few dozen cases annually, is the ATF. Ten states have passed laws to bolster investigations, arrests and prosecutions of"lie and try" crimes. This year, Washington state and Hawaii joined California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia in requiring that state and local law enforcement agencies be notified of failed background checks. Yet Washington is the only state trying to guarantee that women like Courtney Weaver will get an alert if their abusers ever try to arm themselves.
Two members of the House of Representatives are trying to make that a reality nationwide. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and Mike Quigley of Illinois introduced legislation in late November that would require the ATF to notify local authorities when a gun purchase is denied. The bill is backed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 330,000 police officers. Congress should move quickly to approve this practical measure.
The National Rifle Association rarely opposes these state laws, at least openly, because they are meant to help enforce laws already in place. In 2014, Virginia arrested more than 500 criminals who had attempted to purchase weapons illegally, according to figures cited by Quigley and Meehan. In 2013, failed background checks in Pennsylvania led to 620 investigations, 346 arrests and more than 200 convictions.
In Washington state, an investigation by local news organisations found few, if any, examples of a lie-and-try prosecution in the state before the partner notification law passed early this year. So far, since July, only one partner has been informed, but more than 60 referrals have been made to law enforcement agencies. Forty-seven of the denied transactions were tied to an active protection order. This is information that previously wasn't shared.
It's a call that no one ever wants to receive, but it surely saves live.

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