Daniel L. Feldman

Gun violence: why do Americans put up with this?

In Criminal Justice Policy, National Politics, Policy on October 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

A friend recently sent me an article from the Washington Post published on October 24, 2010, in effect providing some updates to our chapter on guns in Tales from the Sausage Factory.

It got me angry all over again. The Washington Post made requests for police log listings in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County in Maryland over the past 18 years, to obtain records of 76,000 guns recovered from criminals in those jurisdictions. Of those, the Post was able to track about 8700 to retail gun dealers in Maryland. One gun shop in the area, Realco, in a town called Forestville, was responsible for 2500 of those guns, including 300 used in non-fatal crimes and 86 used in homicides. No other Maryland dealer came close. For every 1000 guns Realco sold, 131 ended up recovered from crimes. For every 1000 guns three other more typical Maryland dealers sold, 41, 28, and 8 ended up recovered from crimes. And Realco’s guns show up in crimes much sooner after sale than guns from other dealers, another indication that the store had a greater tendency to sell them to people who intended to use them in crimes, or to sell them to other people (“straw purchasers”) who intended to use them in crimes.

Virginia was not different from Maryland in this regard, the Post found.  A very small percentage of Virginia gun retailers – about one percent — leaked most of the crimes guns sold in that state.

All this confirms that what we found ten years ago nationwide, based on studies available then, remains true. Since handgun manufacturers must keep records, by serial number, of which distributors bought the guns they sold, and distributors must keep records, by serial number, of which retailers bought the guns they sold, manufacturers and distributors know which retailers specialize in selling guns that end up being used in crimes. Yet, they keep selling to those retailers. I tried, as a legislator, to make those manufacturers and distributors legally liable for such negligence; and I was part of the effort by the Attorney General’s office, under Eliot Spitzer, to do the same. But the National Rifle Association beat us, and went us one better: they got Congress to ban the release of the gun-trace data from ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) that we and other used back then to demonstrate the culpability of the gun industry. 

Which American politicians would admit to shielding the gun industry from liability for what amounts to facilitating death and injury to innocent people so that it can make more money? I very much doubt that the average NRA member would support this policy. The NRA’s policies reflect its funding sources, not its membership. Yet this is where Congress has permitted the NRA to take us. If you happen to read this before Tuesday, you might check to see where your member of Congress stands on this issue.

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