Letter: Viable options to help prevent mass shootings

Mass shootings, including the two recent ones in Ohio and Texas, leave us all horrified. Citizens are outraged and demand action. I get it and agree.  Law enforcement and other authorities should take effective measures; but what will work to stop the senseless killing?

The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) is designed to keep felons, domestic offenders, and those adjudicated to be a danger to themselves and others because of mental illness from buying or possessing firearms. To work properly, the system relies on individual states to voluntarily submit the proper data; without state cooperation, the system cannot work properly. We hear a lot from proponents of a “universal background system.” Let’s dig into the facts.

• The current NICS is improved, but still could be much better. An article in the Washington Post a couple years ago informed us that as many as 7 million persons who should be ineligible to buy a gun can legally do so because the proper data is not in the system. Another big problem is the lack of prosecution of people who try to buy a gun illegally. The Trump administration is doing a better job of going after illegal buyers, but many attempts, though unsuccessful, still go unpunished; it seems likely those denied a purchase will resort to illegal means of procurement, when they should be in jail!

• If we already have a system that does not always work, what are the ramifications of a new “universal background check” system? What proponents are not telling us is it would create a national database of all guns and all private party transfers. Want to let your niece or nephew use your shotgun to go hunting or shoot trap? Your gun malfunctions on a hunting trip and you need to borrow one? Have a gun that has been in the family for generations and want to leave it to a relative? All these “ transactions” would have to be documented and submitted to the federal government for approval. Think about that; not only will the authorities know exactly what firearms you have, but government approval will be required to sell, gift, or lend a gun to a relative or friend. If that situation does not smell like a recipe for tyranny, I don’t know what does.

• What entity is going to process all these private transactions? Who is keeping the records? Local gun dealers would be overwhelmed, as would the system. How would dealers be compensated, and how would they be protected from liability? This would create a whole new layer of government bureaucracy, imposing ineffective, onerous regulations on peaceable citizens. 

• How about banning “assault weapons?” No one needs an AR15 or an AK47, right? But the fact is those firearms function exactly like any other common semi-auto. A ban on all semi-auto rifles, shotguns, and all pistols would ensue, probably many pump and lever guns as well.  Now that might sound just fine to some, but what’s the plan to get them away from criminals, who care nothing for laws? The average violent crime is over in a matter of seconds; many of us are several minutes from aid by law enforcement. During a storm last winter we needed help and law enforcement was powerless to get to us. It happens. The confiscation of hundreds of thousands of the most common and effective firearms would leave law-abiding citizens helpless in the face of depredations from better-armed criminals.

To their credit, in 2018 Congress passed and President Trump signed the Fix NICS Act, provisions of which help ensure that state and federal agencies submit critical data to the NICS database. More improvements are needed as the feds still cannot mandate 100 percent state compliance due to the 10th Amendment. 

Something everyone can do is go to FixNICS.org and use the website as a tool to lobby for positive improvements to the NICS system. Keeping firearms out of the wrong hands is crucial, as is calling attention to the fact that the authorities are not always doing their sworn duty when they fail to prosecute illegal gun purchase attempts.

Many other unfortunate factors contribute to the hate and rage that fuel mass shootings. Horrible violence in media and video games, broken families, fatherless children, and a lack of respect for the sanctity of life all contribute to the problem and should be prioritized for improvement in our society. But denying the ownership and use of arms to peaceable, law-abiding citizens has never and will never be a cure for criminal, murderous behavior. Exactly the opposite is true. Please join me in taking the positive actions listed to help end the violence.   

Thank you and God bless,  

Jeff Erding