, Salem, MA


February 4, 2013

Watson: Gun lobby distorts gun law facts and proposals


This distortion matters a great deal because there is in fact a very reasonable “middle path” to improving the reach and effectiveness of gun laws while maintaining the rights of citizens to procure and use guns. If ordinary citizens can see through these distortions, and support their congressmen who will have to buck the lobbying efforts of the NRA in order to vote for reasonable gun control, then it is likely that the country can improve on our existing firearms regulations, just as we will try to address the performance of the mental health system, the media, the schools, and our online culture.

It should be noted that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible with their firearms, and are supportive of some of the new regulatory proposals.

Most of the new legislation — both at federal and state levels — contains a number of measured, “middle path” provisions. For example, according to a 1997 Institute of Justice study, roughly 30 to 40 percent of guns are procured without any background check of the buyer. This is widely viewed by many — including gun owners — as a bad situation that can allow guns into the hands of criminals or mentally ill people. The new proposals would require a universal background check.

And if we pair that check with better reporting by the states to the national background check database, then we’ll weed out many more people who are prohibited from having guns.

The gun lobby opposes these steps, mostly by disputing the number of guns sold without background checks, and by claiming that we don’t know how to report potentially dangerous, ill people.

The gun lobby doesn’t want you to know that probably 500,000 to a million guns are sold annually on the private, “off-books” secondary market, without background checks. I say “probably” because the gun lobby, allied with gun manufacturers, has worked hard for years to prevent legislation which would authorize the government to conduct research into the gun industry — which has meant that observers have to piece together the statistics from what data exists. (Keep in mind that in 2011 the FBI conducted more than 16 million background checks — not all of which resulted in a gun sale — and you start to have a feel for the order of magnitude of this activity.)

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