By Clark Hopper, contributing writer
After the recent senseless loss of life at Newtown, CN, I have heard many suggestions about what to do in order to eliminate any reoccurrence. After looking at causes of gun violence in our society such as violence on television, news media, movies, video games, lax gun control and large gun magazine capacity, I feel you might need more information about recent changes to past and current gun laws.
Both state and federal law set U.S. gun policy. Federal policy has become more gun friendly in recent years. A federal firearms trace database is now off-limits to the public. How often do federally licensed gun dealers sell guns that are then used in crimes? It is hard to know, because for nearly a decade such gun trace data has been hidden from the public. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms cannot even require gun dealers to conduct an inventory for lost or stolen guns. Records of customer background checks must be destroyed within 24 hours, if they come back clean enough to allow the sale. The trace data cannot be used in state civil lawsuits, or in an effort to suspend or revoke a gun dealer’s license.
The military cannot impose additional regulations on service members who own guns. You can carry a loaded gun inside a national park located in states that permit concealed guns in their own state parks. In 2009, Congress voted to allow customers riding Amtrak to check guns and ammunition in their luggage.
In 2005, Congress enacted a law that protects gun dealers and manufacturers from liability for injuries resulting in the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm. The law authorized dismissal of any applicable pending lawsuits and prohibited future claims! The law has not stopped gun prosecution for illegal firearm use, but has created an obstacle for litigation.
Congress has removed federal funding for firearms related research. Funding used to be set aside for the Centers for Disease and Prevention to research the impact of gun ownership, but was taken away in the mid-90s.
The deadly rampage at the Connecticut elementary school marked the 13th mass shooting in the United States this year. Among the 11 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, more that half took place in the last five years. During the same period, states have often relaxed their gun laws. Five states now allow students to carry concealed guns on college campuses, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Utah. Utah began this trend in 2004 with the other schools following suit over the years.
Loaded guns in bars are now allowed in Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia and Ohio. Georgia lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this year expanding the list of places you can take a concealed weapon, proposing to allow them in colleges, places of worship and polling places.
You do not have to be 18 years old to lawfully purchase, or be sober to lawfully use a gun in some states. In Missouri, it is no longer a crime for an intoxicated person to handle or fire a gun, as long as they are acting in self-defense. Federal law prohibits licensed firearm dealers from selling a shotgun or rifle to anyone under 18, or handguns to anyone under 21. Still some states impose minimum age limits that go below these federal limits. For instance, in Vermont it is legal to sell a handgun or rifle to 16 year-olds. It is legal to sell a rifle to a 16-year-old in Maine, Alaska, Minnesota, and New York. In Montana, the legal age is 14, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit organization that tracks state gun laws.
Nearly half of the states have adopted some type of “Stand Your Ground,” or “Shoot First” law. Florida and 24 other states have enacted “Stand Your Ground” laws, expanding a person’s right to self-defense. Under these laws, individuals no longer have the duty to retreat to avoid confrontation in any place he or she has a right to be. Florida was the first state to introduce such a law in 2005 and many other states have followed suit.
A few states make it easy for violent felons to get their gun rights restored. The New York Times conducted an extensive investigation into this issue last year. The story reports that in 11 states nonviolent felons have automatic restoration of their gun rights, while a handful of other states allow felons convicted of violent crimes to regain their gun rights. In Minnesota, violent felons can petition a court to regain there gun rights by showing “good cause” and there is no waiting period. Georgia and Nebraska have granted a high number of pardons to restore felon’s right to bear arms, even for those convicted of crimes like voluntary manslaughter or armed robbery.
Personally, I believe in the “Right to Bear Arms”, but I also believe that right is there to protect Americans, not endanger them. Americans need to look closer at amending some current Gun Laws!
The opinions discussed in this column are my opinions alone and not those of the entire Saline County Democratic Central Committee.