The debate on gun control is arguably the most contentious topic currently sucking up real estate inside the media bubble. An important national issue, with both legal and cultural implications, it is primarily an emotional one.
The only federal legislation still on life support is the measure requiring universal background checks for gun sales. Despite being backed by roughly 90% of Americans, the bill barely made it out of the Senate committee’s frying pan, and now waits a slow basting in the fiery Senate chambers.
If nothing else, the measure’s plodding pace has provided ample opportunity for everyone to voice their opinion. Gun owners vs. gun control advocates, lawmakers vs. police chiefs, First Lady Michelle Obama vs. NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre, this is an assortment of groups and individuals as passionate in their discourse as they are polar in their views.
Note that I did leave one brain trust out of the above list. Opinion writers such as Maureen Dowd and Charles Krauthammer, Leonard Pitts and Michael Gerson, Eugene Robinson and Kathleen Parker have all weighed in on the gun debate. As expected, their views follow the normal trajectory of their political leanings.
Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, is one of my favorites. Her commentary is articulate and sensible, her tone sincere and honest. That does not mean, however, that she is infallible.
Whether one writes in The Post’s super heavyweight class or, in my case, the light flyweight class, columnists who wade outside their expertise are as prone to errors as anyone. To wit, Ms. Parker’s most recent column (TNT 4/11), in which she opines that universal background checks “would likely only make us feel better.”
In an attempt to curb my exasperation, I will admit that Ms. Parker’s doubt abouts the efficacy of universal background checks are not unique. There is a general confusion about the various ways disturbed and violent individuals, not to mention felons, arm themselves. While burglaries and thefts account for a large number of guns on the street, far too many are purchased legitimately via private sellers. As I have learned through experience, such transactions occur on a sliding scale.
Consider this one example. A couple of years ago a gang member approached the gang unit to which I was assigned with news of an imminent drive-by shooting. His gang was apparently planning to retaliate for an earlier incident, and the informant had been detailed to find a gun for the job. We set up a sting operation and were fortunate enough to arrest the would-be shooter and the felon who was attempting to sell him what turned out to be a worn out but still functioning semi-auto pistol.
With the assistance of the ATF, we identified the original owner and found it had been sold years earlier to a private party. The subsequent series of transactions, which landed it in the possession of a felon and, very nearly into the hands of a would-be killer, were all completed without concern for the new owner’s mental stability or criminal persuasion.
This stereotypical example highlights one of the basic problems in our current system. When a gun passes, unchecked, through a succession of owners, there are consequences. Because new owners fail to register, much less notice, the serial numbers on their firearms, stolen guns slip through the system, and the criminals who possess them are not charged with a crime. All too often, the end user of a repeatedly sold firearm is the police department which collects it from a crime scene.
Which is why Ms. Parker’s irritation at having her neighbor submit to a silly background check just to buy her shotgun is frustrating. Further, she expresses doubt that, if passed, the new law would be difficult to enforce. That would be plausible if Congress (per the NRA) continues to muzzle the ATF’s enforcement authority.
This is the complex reality behind the gun debate, and it is not going away. So, with all due respect to the heavyweight talents of Ms. Parker, to fully appreciate this issue one needs to step into the ring.