Bach: Why are we targeting guns instead of criminals?

ON AUG. 6, Governor Corzine signed S1774 into law — legislation making it a crime to exercise the constitutional right to obtain a handgun any more often than Big Brother dictates — even after waiting as long as six months for permits and being prequalified by the state after a thorough police investigation.

It’s overkill in the extreme, based on the false and unsupportable premise that criminals and their surrogates buy their crime guns from New Jersey dealers, after marching down to police headquarters to volunteer for fingerprinting, background checks and extensive personal disclosures.

The theory is that reducing the overall number of handguns will somehow reduce gun crime, which is a little like saying that reducing the overall number of cars will reduce drunk driving. It’s absurd, because criminals are not deterred when a particular tool becomes less available.

Not only that, but criminals laugh at laws like S1774, because they don’t follow the law to begin with, and they certainly don’t get their guns from New Jersey dealers – only law-abiding citizens do, so only honest folks are impacted by the legislation.

Gun-rationing schemes like S1774 have been tried before in other states, but they have either been repealed or shown ineffective, since criminals bent on illegal trafficking can spread purchases among multiple buyers in lieu of a single buyer purchasing multiple guns.

S1774 does nothing to punish criminal behavior with guns, and it ignores known sources of illegal trafficking, like the FedEx theft ring that recently stole hundreds of handguns from legal shipments and distributed them in Jersey City and Newark – cities plagued by illegal guns. But instead of calling for laws mandating background checks on shipping employees who handle sensitive packages, or requiring special safeguards on those packages, the State House has chosen to target the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Discredited claim

The claim by supporters of S1774 that state-certified law-abiding New Jerseyans are magically transformed into violent criminals and illegal gun traffickers when they buy more than one handgun on the same day (after waiting months for permits) has been thoroughly discredited and disproven. These claims are based on deceptive parsing of statistics and disingenuous use of misunderstood Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) nomenclature to falsely characterize guns recovered from house fires, floods, natural disasters, estates and gun buybacks as “crime guns.”

Moreover, ATF data released for 2007, falsely cited in support of handgun rationing, fails to correlate New Jersey multiple purchases with crime gun traces, providing no evidence whatsoever that government-monitored multiple handgun sales in New Jersey result in gun crime or illegal trafficking.

The only publicly available ATF statistics show, irrefutably, that less than one-half of 1 percent of guns traced by ATF originated as New Jersey multiple handgun sales, which also means that more than 99 percent of traces originated as individual (not multiple) sales.

There simply is no evidence that licensed multiple sales in New Jersey are trafficked or used in crime by their purchasers, and objective evidence demonstrates precisely the opposite.

Were that true, personal data gathered in the intrusive licensing process would lead authorities straight to the culprits. But that doesn’t happen, because criminals don’t get guns that way.

Ironically, gun rationing schemes like S1774 effectively end the mandated reporting of multiple handgun sales by dealers to the federal authorities who investigate them.

Losing an effective tool

According to a former chief of the ATF National Tracing Center, who testified against S1774 before a state Senate committee last year, ending the reporting of multiple sales “eliminates an important law enforcement tool in the detection and interdiction of possible illegal gun trafficking, and also makes it easier for illegal traffickers to evade detection, since authorities are no longer alerted to the occurrence of multiple sales.”

The outcry against S1774 by law-abiding gun owners caused the governor to take the unusual step of forming a task force to study the law’s impact on honest citizens prior to implementation. Public hearings are expected, but cynics worry that the process is an election-year stunt and that the legislation’s seriously flawed exemptions for dealers and collectors will not be meaningfully addressed.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: This state needs tough laws that severely punish violent criminal behavior with guns, not off-target laws that restrict the constitutional rights of honest people instead.

Scott L. Bach is president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, and a member of the NRA Board of Directors.

http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/bach_081609.html

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