Thoughts on Shooters Part 2

In Part 1 of this 2 Part article I shared my own experience being on the receiving end of an angry shooter’s gun. I shared this because everyone in the gun discussion has a bias and I want to be up front about mine. In part 2 I intend to address the issue of gun legislation. I believe this is the greatest source of confusion and conflict when discussing this issue because no one seems to know what laws actually exist at a Federal level.

I intend to ask and answer:

What Federal Laws currently exist?

What Federal Laws could be enacted to help prevent mass shootings?

I would also like to state up front that I am not an expert on these matters and invite dialogue about how others understand these laws to apply.  I’m very willing to update the article to reflect accurate information if I am missing anything relevant or if I have misstated anything.  Please engage with me on this.  I won’t debate but I will engage in respectful dialogue and brainstorming of how better to address this issue.

One thing that needs to be addressed is something that I mentioned in Part 1 of this article. Every state has individual state laws regulating guns (except my state which seems to have no legislation at all regarding guns). This means that you might think gun legislation looks a certain way and not realize that you are thinking of state laws and not Federal laws that would regulate everyone.

Some states have great gun laws and the more gun legislation the less gun crime. If you are in one of these states that is wonderful and it might help if you advocate for the rest of the country to have a similar experience to what you have in your state. It would be great to lower the number of gun crimes across the country! 

When it comes to Federal laws there are two primary laws that people refer to and these are important to understand because they do not cover what most people think they do.

The first is 18 USC Section 922 that regulates gun sales from Federally licensed sellers and stores.

This legislation requires that Federally licensed gun sellers and stores make sure they don’t sell guns to anyone they have a reasonable belief might be seriously mentally ill, underage, using drugs or other dangerous substances, or buying the gun to commit a crime. This seems like a good law except for two things most people don’t consider. First, this legislation does not prevent anyone from buying a gun who is seriously mentally ill, underage or buying the gun to commit a crime, etc. It only prevents the seller from selling the gun if they have a “reasonable belief” that these things are occurring. Second, the way this legislation has been enacted has resulted in it being a protection for the gun seller when something does go wrong after the gun sale. The stores, to protect themselves and show compliance with this Federal Statute, require the person purchasing the gun to sign a form that states they are not any of these restricted things and ask to see ID.  They are then protected from liability when they sell the gun.

That’s it. A piece of paper that says you aren’t SMI, underage, or intending to harm anyone with the gun, and after you sign they are protected and you are free to walk away with the gun. There is a background check that must be run, maybe, but we’ll get to that in a bit. And, to be fair, this is where the second piece of Federal legislation comes into play.

The other important Federal legislation is known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.*

One of the first things you should be noticing about this legislation is that much of it applies only to handguns – not other types of guns or weapons.

This is the legislation that requires a background check. That’s a good thing but there are also two major hindrances to the Brady Act preventing crimes that need to be addressed.

The first is known as the Gun Show Loophole.

The Brady Act applies to gun stores. It does not apply to private gun sales or sellers who operate out of gun shows. If you want a handgun and don’t want to undergo a waiting period related to a background check you only need to attend a gun show and purchase your gun there.

The other hindrance to the Brady Act preventing gun crime also applies to US Title 18 laws. Let’s look at the background checks that people have to pass in order to buy a gun. And keep in mind that they only apply to Federally Licensed Firearm dealers.

Everything You Need to Know About Federal Background Checks

Turns out the records that the FBI uses to run background checks are not always up to date, not always clear, and not always accessible. There are also limits to what triggers a rejection during the check. For instance, where there is a Federal ban for prior domestic violence this does not include non spouses so your state has to decide if they want to add that as a cause to deny the purchase. If they don’t then it is not going to prevent the person from buying the gun.

While the background check is supposed to be instant, sometimes there is a need to do more research and it can take longer. In these cases the government has 3 days to complete the background check or the seller is able to just send the buyer home with the gun. Unfortunately, “According to December 2016 Government Accountability Office report, the FBI takes a week to deny sales because of a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.”. So even though domestic violence is a reason to deny the gun purchase, the search for that information more often than not takes longer than the window of time in which it can be used to deny the purchase.

If you’ve been sent home with a gun and later it’s determined that you should have been denied the purchase the information is turned over to ATF and they get to try and find you and get the gun back. They aren’t very successful. “Retrieval orders are relatively rare: A NICS operations report from 2000 noted that of more than 45,000 default proceeds issued that year, approximately 5,000 resulted in a retrieval order.” And once the other is issued they still have to go get the gun.

“The gunmen in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting, Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre, and Virginia Tech rampage each had a history that banned them from owning firearms. Yet none were stopped, because of omissions and loopholes in the system.” That was as of the 2016 date of the article.

At the end of the day if you are a Federal Firearms Licensed Dealer (FFL) you are required to run background checks. But your state law may have exceptions about what customers are exempt from background checks among other things. In fact, only nine states and DC currently require universal background checks for all sales and transfers of guns.

The NRA has lobbied and fought hard against any type of a national database or “registry” of gun owners. This article from GQ addresses many of the realities of this but needless to say when a police officer needs to trace a gun it is not nearly as simple as they make it look on TV.

For one thing, because the NRA has fought against anything resembling a “gun registry” they have been able to keep all records for guns off of any computer database and they continue to be in paper or photo (they only got permission to switch from microfilm to PDF not that long ago . . . I know what microfilm is but I would bet most people younger than I am have no idea). This means any request to trace a gun requires digging through millions of records by hand and pulling hard copies of the records.

Not only that, but the Federal warehouse only stores the records of guns that were purchased at stores that went out of business and are no longer holding their own records. Until they go out of business stores keep all records in their own offices and when someone wants to trace the gun they call the Federal offices which have to track down the manufacturer, wholesaler, local store where the purchase was made and then call that store to have them dig through their files to find the record of who purchased the gun.

There is currently no federal waiting, or cooling off, period when buying a gun. Someone with no criminal record can go into a store, buy a gun and leave with it, with no delay

This site addresses many of the inefficiencies of the current gun legislation and I have appreciated looking through many of the pages as I’ve researched this issue. This particular page lists a few laws that I haven’t addressed, some of which are specifically drafted to protect gun sellers and gun owners, not the general public.

So what laws would help?

Before we jump into what I believe is a reasonable approach to gun legislation I want to address the argument the NRA has worked very hard to promote . . . That of the “anti-gun lobby.” There are organization that are invested in working to stop gun violence. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is one. They seek “freedoms from gun violence through research, strategic engagement, and effective policy advocacy.” ( There is Everytown Against Gun Violence. There’s Brady. There are others. These organizations are not fighting to take away every gun or prevent gun ownership. They are advocating for reasonable legislation, like the Brady Act, that will help keep people safe.

This is a far cry from the National Rifle Association – a National Lobbying group that is funded by gun manufacturers and pays millions to lawmakers to assure that gun manufacturers, sellers and owners are protected. It is the NRA that has argued that allowing the Federal Government to have computerized centralized capabilities to trace gun sales would amount to a national “gun registry” and prevented reasonable record keeping or tracking of gun sales. Yet no one is opposed to police having the ability to trace a gun!

One reason that gun legislation is hard to advance is the rhetoric (“They want to take away your guns!” “They want to create a registry so they can know how to come and take your guns!). The other is that passing legislation is harder than resisting the passing of legislation. No movement is easier to maintain than movement.

That’s why this article is one of the most reasoned and reasonable arguments I have heard for what common sense gun legislation could look like.

The author of this article argues that we should take the statements of belief of the NRA itself and apply them as legislation to regulate gun ownership, sales and use. If the NRA really believes what they advocate they should have no problem with legislation based on their requirements for their own members. If those who belong to the NRA really believe what the NRA advocates then they have already committed to these ideals and should have no problem with them being legislated and enforced to do what they say they will do . . . Keep people safe!

With that said I want to address a few other stray issues that arise when this topic is discussed and call them out for the fallacies they are.

SMI – while no one wants a firearm in the hands of a person with serious mental illness, there is no support for the argument that all mass shooters are in fact dealing with serious mental illness. People who have SMI are more likely to commit suicide than homicide and that is enough of a reason to keep guns away from them, but when someone with SMI does commit homicide it is wrong to blameshift and try to argue that their SMI is the reason for the gun violence. If they did not have a gun they would not have committed gun violence. This is also an illegitimate argument until those who want to shift the conversation to SMI when the topic is guns are willing to discuss treatment for those with SMI as a separate issue. Until we are having that discussion as a nation I don’t believe anyone cares about SMI except as a scapegoat for gun violence.

Because there is no evidence that every mass shooter is diagnosed with SMI we have to deal with the many other issues that might lead someone to become a mass shooter. We must face that there are angry young men (and women, but primarily men) who want to murder people. The reasons are many and we do need to acknowledge a breakdown in the fabric of our society in many areas. For two decades I have worked with families to help equip and empower them to parent with attachment and effective positive discipline (the method I developed and taught is called Grace-Based Discipline). By all means let’s start talking about what to do about these areas! In the meantime, we need to acknowledge that there are people who want to do harm to others and let’s have the common sense to commit to keeping guns out of their hands.

Let’s also stop trying to argue that people kill because they don’t have Jesus. There are people who profess faith who commit all manner of heinous crimes and there are lots of great decent atheists who believe it is wrong to take a human life. The idea that those without Jesus are amoral is pure mythology. I have one friend who is an atheist and finally started telling people if the only reason they weren’t raping and murdering is because they believe in Jesus they should never ever question that faith! Rather, hold onto it for dear life because the rest of the world does not need to be subjected to you without that faith. In truth, several of the most recent mass shooters have been involved with white supremacist groups that profess to be White Evangelical Christian organizations. While I would argue that they are not Christian in the pure sense of the word (follower of Christ) as their actions have no resemblance to anything Jesus did or taught, this does not change that they were involved with faith professing organizations.

“No Gun Zones” are not a cause of mass shootings. First of all, whether you consider the firearms present at the school in Florida adequate or not, the school was not a No Gun Zone! So then the argument shifts to there not being enough guns, but there were multiple sheriff’s on duty present by the end of the shooting and no one did anything. Apparently the next logical argument is to say that the teachers inside the school should have had guns, but there is no evidence that armed teachers would be an effective deterrent or defense in the case of an armed shooter. Certainly there is no evidence that they would be more effective than the police who were present!

Not only would we be asking someone who has devoted themselves to caring for students to suddenly shift gears and kill one, but what happens when multiple teachers with guns run into the situation and students are caught in the crossfire. Let’s not forget that in the states that require concealed carry permits and the training that goes with the license (and this is NOT a requirement in every state!) the concealed carry permit training does not include armed shooter training. This is an expert level training course that is very expensive and, even when it has been applied for the purpose of arming administrators and teachers in school settings, it is not foolproof. Highly trained Marines shoot with 18% precision and police officers shoot with 30% accuracy. While someone will inevitably speak of sharp shooters I would respond no one has suggested training public school teachers to be sharp shooters.

The reason a mass shooter chooses the place they do is not because of how many guns may or may not be present. Rather, they want to target specific people who are in the place they select or they want to do the most damage in the least amount of time. In the case of the Florida school shooting the young man went to his former school campus and hunted down his ex girlfriend (who he had stalked) and her new boyfriend.

Let’s also consider, on the topic of arming teachers, that unless we are going to arm them with an equal firearm – typically an assault weapon like the Armalite 15 – we are asking teachers to defend themselves and students with a less accurate and less capable firearm. Which brings me to my position of restricting public purchases of assault weapons. If someone is going to attempt a mass shooting I want to make sure they do so with a less accurate and less capable firearm! I want them to have the ability to kill less people before they are stopped. I want them to be hindered not aided by the firearm power.

I also want to address the argument that says if you make laws about guns you will only keep the good guys from having guns. The bad guys will still get them. To this and every variation on the arguments of why we shouldn’t have common sense gun legislation I say this:

At this point the bad guys are buying their guns legally and an angry good guy might become a bad guy. It would be great if this was a black and white hat issue but it isn’t. Laws don’t ever get passed to prevent all crimes of that type – rather they are passed so that when they are violated there is a law in place to make the action criminal and hold the person accountable. Currently the mass shooter who uses an AR15 they bought at a gun show in a state that doesn’t require any background checks at gun shows purchased their gun legally and didn’t do anything wrong until they used that weapon to kill someone . . . Something, I might add, we have a law about! If we put common sense gun legislation in place then we have several opportunities to stop the mass shooting before it occurs and we have more leverage when we do bring charges against the person to force their hand for sentencing and when lots of people are dead that is a good thing.

In Conclusion, I propose that there are very simple steps we could take to protect more citizens and keep weapons out of the hands of potential mass shooters.

First, I would support a waiting period during the background checks that would be long enough to include a chance to catch those who too often end up with guns that ATF has to expend resources to track down. Especially because this often includes those guilty of domestic violence, and this has been shown as a correlated factor to mass shootings, I believe this would save lives. I would also expand the records of domestic violence to include non-spouse individuals including family members and girlfriends.

Second, I would raise the purchase age for guns. Assault weapons and rifles can be purchased by 18 year olds and as has been pointed out by many of the surviving students in Florida there is no reason someone we deem not old enough to buy alcohol should have easy access to an assault weapon. I would propose 25 is a reasonable age for anyone not serving in the military or police force and properly trained to handle their weapon. That is my personal comfort level as it waits until the brain is fully developed before we allow ownership of guns.

Third, I would support enacting the NRA’s requirements for membership as common sense gun legislation as outlined in the article that I referenced above. There seems no reason to suspect that the NRA would argue against its own standards.

Fourth, I would bring the record keeping for such an important issue into the 21st century and create a centralized record system for gun licensing and tracing guns. I would require everyone who wants to purchase a gun to go through some level of gun safety training and obtain a license. There is no reason that we have less requirements for gun ownership than we do for car ownership or use. I would also propose regular renewals, as we have with driver’s licenses. It has been acknowledged by all that we need to regulate automobile use because it can take lives if we don’t make sure people know what they are doing. Clearly this is the case with guns as well. Additional liability insurance might be another thing to be discussed here.

Fifth, while I know many will disagree with this suggestion, I would like to see some discussion for accountability of those who sell guns.  When someone works in any capacity that serves alcohol they are subject to Dram laws.  These laws allow the victims and families of victims harmed by someone who is drunk to sue any establishment and the individuals who served the person alcohol because of the contributing role they played in the crime.  This means when you’re serving alcohol it’s more important than ever to make sure customers aren’t drunk already or leaving your facility with access to a vehicle.  If gun shop owners and the people who worked there, not to mention gun show owners and those who sell at their venues, were going to face potential lawsuit if someone committed a crime with a gun purchased from them it would make sense that they would take screenings and background checks even more seriously. There is no Constitutional protection for those selling the arms people bear.

Ultimately it is ridiculous to argue that requirements for gun ownership that allow for safe gun ownership and the security of all citizens who come in contact with gun owners is in any way a violation of the 2nd Amendment. Nowhere are we guaranteed the right to unfettered and unhindered access to all of the weapons of every type that we want with no oversight. We need to stop pretending that the right to bear arms that was included in the Bill of Rights by the Founding Fathers was intended by them to take precedence over the right they acknowledged was endowed by our Creator – the right to Life.

* I am very aware that Wikipedia does not qualify as a primary source but it offers a succinct summary of some things and usually includes links to primary sources. As with all sources, I strongly encourage those who wish to study the issue more to purse that and make sure they are satisfied with the information.


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