BOSTON Let's get this out of the way. I am a gun owner and a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. What I do not support is extending the rights embedded in the Second Amendment to terrorists, criminals and children.
In the wake of a horrific campus shooting at Northern Illinois University, where 21 students were shot, we're reminded again that national gun laws must be strengthened.
Sadly, gun laws have only been weakened since the massacres at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. To be sure, these headline-grabbing mass shootings may not have been preventable. But beyond the headlines, consider this news: 83 Americans die each and every day from gun violence. And much of that violence is very preventable.
Current federal law allows an unlimited number of easily concealable handguns and military-style weapons to be sold privately in 32 states without a criminal background check or an ID. Why do we take such a hands-off approach to these dangerous weapons? The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun industry lobby are a big part of the answer.
You have to show ID to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. But if you want a Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle (capable of penetrating steel and taking out an armored vehicle from more than a mile) you need only to show up at one of 5,000 legal gun shows and fork over the cash no ID or background check required!
It is well-documented that al-Qaida, Hezbollah and IRA terrorists have exploited this loophole in U.S. gun laws to purchase military-style weapons from "private sellers" at gun shows.
In a recent radio debate with me, an NRA official confirmed that the organization is opposed to uniform criminal background checks for fear they will "shut down gun shows." The NRA says that not even people on the suspected terrorist watch list should be barred from purchasing guns because are you ready for this? "we do not know how people are put on the list" and "many times people are victims of mistaken identity."
Eighty-nine percent of Americans said they wanted mandatory background checks for anyone buying a gun, according to a 2007 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Tarrance Group survey. But the NRA has continually blocked such common-sense legislation as mandatory background checks and five-day waiting periods to buy a handgun. NRA policies handcuff national law enforcement's ability to effectively regulate private gun sales, gun shows and even the sharing of crime-gun trace data within the law enforcement community.
By putting guns into the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill, the policies the NRA helped create a society where defense by guns becomes mandatory. Meanwhile, the bank accounts of the NRA leaders and lobbyists are enriched and congressional coffers are replenished. Gun manufacturers reinforce this cycle by investing in the NRA.
According to Federal Elections Commission Reports, the NRA has spent more than $22 million on congressional candidates in order to support its agenda during the past four election cycles. In 2004, the NRA spent nearly $4 million to re-elect George W. Bush.
Immunity from lawsuits and freedom from consumer protection regulations and manufacturing standards are just a few of the benefits delivered by the NRA and provided by a complicit president and Congress.
Massachusetts stands out as an example of a state that has successful gun violence prevention legislation. Along with 17 other states, it has enacted background checks for all gun sales. Only Hawaii has a firearms fatality rate lower than that of Massachusetts. Hawaii is fortunate; bordered by water, it is less accessible to gun traffickers than Massachusetts, where more than 60 percent of guns traced to crime come from out of state.
Bay State neighbors New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine are three of the top four crime-gun source states for Massachusetts, where guns are easily purchased by prohibited buyers without a background check or an ID.
Most law-abiding citizens like me buy guns from federally licensed dealers required to perform background checks. Incredibly, federal law allows criminals and terrorists who can't pass background checks to easily buy guns from private individuals in 32 states without detection.The bloodshed in our communities and schools (there were multiple campus shootings last week!) is largely preventable. Of course, not every law is going to stop violence completely, but shouldn't we help prevent the tragedies we can by weeding out the criminals? It is time for reasonable people the majority of Americans who agree with me to insist that Congress enact sensible and consistent federal laws that require criminal background checks for all gun sales in the United States.
John E. Rosenthal is co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence, the American Hunters and Shooters Association, and Common Sense About Kids and Guns.