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Posted 9/26/10


A deceptively entitled bill seeks to weaken what little gun dealer oversight there is

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Imagine having been an agent for the renowned Bureau of Prohibition, those Al Capone-busting investigators whose intrepid work was glorified in the wildly popular TV series, “The Untouchables.”

     Then imagine being an ATF agent today.  As public memory fades of the the horrific events that led to passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 – the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy– ATF has become a convenient whipping boy for politicians of all stripes.  With a majority of the Supreme Court supping at the same table as the NRA, the President’s promises to institute record checks at gun shows and resurrect the assault weapons ban seem to have the same chance of coming to pass as the ATF has of gaining a permanent Director, a position that’s been vacant since 2006 when it became subject to Senate confirmation.

     But we digress.  Imagine your astonishment some months ago when Senate Bill 941, a bipartisan proposal enticingly named “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2009” popped out of the blue.

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     Turning the page, you found that its very first section, 101, seems to propose giving ATF more power, not less.  To date the agency’s only tool for disciplining wayward gun dealers has been to revoke their license.  But under s. 941 there would also be fines and suspensions.  On closer look, though, these new options seem mild and the exceptions many.  Distinctions are made between “minor” and “serious” transgressions, and taking adverse action in even the former requires proof of “willfulness.”

     Your heart skips a beat, as you know quite well what “willful” did to the GCA.

     When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was first enacted the term “willful” appeared only in section 923(d)(1), an innocuous provision about qualifying for a dealer’s license.  That changed with passage of the NRA-sponsored “Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986.”  By embedding numerous instances of “willful” throughout the GCA (without, however, actually defining it) it sought to limit ATF’s ability to go after crooked dealers, either criminally or administratively.  Here’s a comparison between the original and amended versions of section 923(e), which governs revocations:

    Original:   “The Secretary may, after notice and opportunity for hearing, revoke any license issued under this section if the holder of such license has violated any provision of this chapter or any rule or regulation prescribed by the Secretary under this chapter....”

    As modified:  “The Attorney General may, after notice and opportunity for hearing, revoke any license issued under this section if the holder of such license has willfully violated any provision of this chapter or any rule or regulation prescribed by the Attorney General under this chapter....”

    Still, “willfully” didn’t prove to be an absolute bar.  In your blogger’s experience, evidence that dealers concealed or otherwise disguised transactions was usually enough to establish willfulness and go after them criminally.  Ultimately the Supreme Court stepped in.  In Bryan v. U.S., a prosecution for unlicensed gun sales, it ruled that the term requires proving that an accused thought they were acting illegally, although not necessarily in violation of a specific law.

     That’s the ambiguity that section 103 of the ATF Modernization Act seeks to correct:

    ...For purposes of this subsection [923(e), relating to licensing proceedings] the term “willfully” means, with respect to conduct of a person, that the person knew of a legal duty, and engaged in the conduct knowingly and in intentional disregard of the duty.

ATF would have to prove that a licensee was intentionally flouting a specific law or regulation before they could be sanctioned.  Aside from the tax codes, that level of intent is rarely required in the law.  It really does make ignorance an excuse.  And that’s not the only mischief that s. 491 would cause.

  • Section 101(b)(ii) stipulates that “...violation of a provision of this chapter with respect to 2 or more firearms during a single transaction shall be considered a single violation of the provision.”  If willfully pushing multiple guns out the back door counts the same as one, then why stop at one?
  • As originally enacted, GCA section 922(m)made it unlawful for licensees “to make any false entry in, to fail to make appropriate entry in, or to fail to properly maintain, any record....”  FOPA eventually drained most of the sting, reducing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor even in instances of false entry (see 924[a][3]).  Section 107 of the Modernization Act would increase the wiggle room, changing “false entry” to “materially false entry,”  “appropriate entry” to “materially significant entry,” and “properly maintain” to, simply, “retain custody of.”

     Decades of deregulation have threatened the country’s economic stability and endangered the health and well-being of its citizens.  In 2004 the Justice Department, ATF’s new home, issued a report severely chastising the hopelessly overburdened agency for its infrequent and superficial inspections of gun dealers.  But instead of urging a substantial increase of staff it recommended that inspectors “streamline” their work.  Just how much “streamlining” would be necessary was suggested in a 2007 article in Time, which calculated that it would take ATF’s 600 firearms inspectors seventeen years to get around to every gun dealer.

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     If anything, things have gotten worse.  For an example of the current regulatory climate look no further than Shawano Guns.  Despite years of misconduct, ATF admonishments and findings by a hearing officer and, on appeal, a District Court judge that it deserved to lose its license the Milwaukee-area gun store remained open.  And when ATF finally said “no more” (see video clip) and demanded that Shawano shut its doors the same judge who once found against the store ruled that it could remain in business pending further appeals.  And if that doesn’t work the owner’s nephew is waiting in the wings to take over the store, in which case everything would return to square one.

     At least there’s no question about what the “modernization” crew intends.  Giving ATF the illusory “authority” to levy minuscule fines and brief suspensions is nothing more than a ruse to distract from the “modernization” bill’s real purpose: to diminish, for a bit of political gain, whatever influence the beleaguered agency still exercises over the firearms industry, the public interest be damned.

     Senator Mike Crapo (R – ID) and his thirty-seven cosponsors ought to be ashamed.

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By Hook or by Crook (Part II)     By Hook or By Crook     Where Do They Come From?

Long Live Gun Control     Gun Control is Dead     Who’s Guarding the Henhouse? Part I   Part II


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel series on ATF     Sources of Crime Guns     DOJ on ATF licensee oversight

Washington Post: Hidden Life of Guns     Gun Control: Facts and Myths

Posted 8/8/10


Is society powerless in the face of mass shootings?

    911:  “State Police.”
    Shooter:  “Hey, is this 911?”
    911:  “Yeah, can I help you?”
    Shooter:  “This is Omar Thornton.  The shooter over in Manchester.”'
    911:  “Yes, where are you, sir?”
    Shooter: “I’m in the building...ah, you probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up.  Basically this is a racist place.”
    911:  “Yup, I understand that.”
    Shooter:  “They treat me bad over here and treat all other black employees bad over here, too, so I took it into my own hands and handled the problem.  I wish, I wish I could have got more of the people.”

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Connecticut state trooper William Taylor was overseeing dispatch at Troop H on the morning of August 3rd. when a call came in from the man who just gunned down eight co-workers at a Manchester liquor warehouse.  It seemed that the killer couldn’t wait to justify his brutal act and bemoan what he considered a low body count.

     Omar Thornton, 34, had quit his job minutes earlier after watching a private investigator’s video depicting him stealing beer from his delivery truck and placing it in a car.  After resigning he went to the kitchen on a pretext, retrieved two 9mm pistols from his lunch box and exited, guns blazing.  He ultimately holed up in a corner of the plant and dialed 911.  Four minutes into the call, as a police SWAT team closed in, he set down the phone and put a bullet in his brain.

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     Thornton, a gun enthusiast, frequented a nearby shooting range.  He had a shotgun in his car and more weapons at his home.  All had been legally purchased.

     Shootings by purportedly “ordinary” people have become such a common feature of American life that we seldom give them much thought.  Here are some of this year’s other examples:

    July 12, 2010 – Albuquerque, New Mexico.  An armed man walked into a plant where he once worked and shot six persons, killing two, then turned the gun on himself.  Robert Reza, 37, had recently split up with his live-in girlfriend, who was still employed there and whom police suspect was his main target.  She was gravely wounded.

    June 6, 2010 – Hialeah, Florida.  A man with a .45 pistol shot and killed his estranged wife outside the restaurant where she worked, then burst inside, killing three female employees and wounding three.  He committed suicide when police arrived.  Gerardo Regalado, 38, was despondent about his failed relationship and apparently angry at women.

    May 6, 2010 – South L.A. County, California.  A man armed with an assault rifle broke into a home and fired numerous rounds, killing his former girlfriend, her brother and their father and wounding two others.  Joseph Mercado, 26, then set out to burn down the house.  He might have succeeded had he not been confronted by a patrol deputy who heard the gunfire.  Fortunately, the officer also had an assault rifle and wounded Mercado.  The killer’s excuse?  He was mad at his ex about a child custody dispute.

    April 14, 2010 – Chicago, Illinois.  A 32-year old man shot and killed his pregnant wife and infant son, a pregnant 16-year old niece and a 3-year old niece and critically wounded his mother and a 13-year old nephew.  He also fired a round at his fleeing 12-year old niece but missed.  Finally out of ammo, James Larry asked cops to shoot him.  They didn’t.

    January 17, 2010 – Appomattox, Virginia.  A man shot and killed eight persons, including his sister and brother-in-law and their two children, then fired on officers and a police helicopter, puncturing its fuel tank and forcing it down.  Christopher Speight, 39, a sometime security guard, had dozens of guns on his property, including a number of assault rifles.  He also had an assortment of homemade bombs.

    January 7, 2010 – St. Louis, Missouri.  A heavily armed worker stormed into a manufacturing plant and started blasting away. Timothy Hendron, 51, a thirty-three year employee, was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols and wore a fanny pack stuffed with extra ammunition.  By the time it was over he had slain three co-workers and wounded five.  Hendron was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the firm and was having conflicts with superiors.

     Not enough?  Going back to 2009, remember the North Carolina man who went to the nursing home where his estranged wife worked and shot eight dead and wounded three, including a police officer?  How about the Alabama man who armed himself with two assault rifles, a handgun and shotgun and killed his mother, seven relatives and two bystanders and wounded six more, including two cops?  Or, in 2008, the Kentucky man who settled an argument about workplace safety by getting a .45 pistol and killing his boss and four others?

     And on and on.  Editorial reactions to the carnage run the gamut from bitter denunciations of our firearms-obsessed culture to limp pieces that bemoan the tragedies but offer little in the way of a remedy.  In an otherwise thoughtful commentary about the Timothy Herndon massacre, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan took such pains to prove that he’s no reflexive gun-hater that even after what happened in his city he endorsed (for others) the idea of bringing guns to work for protection.  “I say sure.  If it makes you feel better, go ahead.”

     But will these firearms be wisely used?  To paraphrase the gun lobby’s favorite jingle, (inanimate) guns don’t kill people, (fallible) people do.  From what he wrote, Mr. McClellan would have probably said “go ahead” to Omar Thornton, Robert Reza, Timothy Hendron and Weskey Higdon (the Kentucky killer.)  He would have probably been fine with arming the others, too.

     Indeed, there’s no indication that any of the killers bought their guns intending to misuse them.  Several, including Thornton, the Manchester shooter, were gun aficionados. Yet in fits of anger, jealousy and just plain craziness, misuse them they did.  In the end, it was the presence of a firearm at a particular point in time that made all the difference.  Summarizing recent findings that weak gun laws and high rates of gun ownership lead to more gun deaths, the Violence Policy Center’s Kristen Rand said, “The equation is simple. More guns lead to more gun death, but limiting exposure to firearms saves lives.”

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     Well, that’s fine.  Yet the unmistakable trend is in the direction of making guns available to everyone, all the time.  Perhaps it’s time to tackle the threat posed by gun misuse as we do with other causes of death, say, impaired driving.  In 2007 41,259 persons were killed in traffic collisions, including 29,072 occupants of passenger motor vehicles.  DUI’s (BAC of .08 and above) figured in 13,041 deaths.  According to the CDC’s injury reporting system there were 31,224 deaths from firearm injuries during the same period.  Ninety-seven percent (30,335) were violence-related, meaning purposeful; fifty-six percent (17,352) were suicides.

     With more people having and carrying more guns you and I and our families are at increasing risk of being shot by someone who may suddenly go berserk.  Counting on armed citizens to come to the rescue is delusional – in fact, they’re part of the problem.  So here’s an idea.  Let’s use the White House as a bully pulpit for a national campaign to remind everyone – gun owners, their friends, family members and co-workers – that guns and anger are a lethal combination.  “Friends don’t let [angry] friends pack guns.”  “If your [angry] friend has a gun, say something.”  Take out ads in print and on TV, put up billboards, place posters at gun stores and firing ranges.  It’s something worth considering.

UPDATES (scroll)

2/15/23  Anthony McRae, the Michigan State University shooter, used a gun he bought to replace a gun he surrendered three years ago as part of a plea-bargain for carrying it, loaded, in a vehicle. Instead of felony concealed carry, he was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor, so he was not prohibited from having weapons. According to his father, McRae, who was unemployed and suffered from mental problems, lied to him when he denied getting acquiring a replacement gun and shooting it in their backyard. But his father had found bullet casings. He now says that “he wished he had gotten help for his son.”

1/26/23  A badly wounded teacher prepares to sue the Newport News school district over revelations that administrators ignored repeated warnings over hours that the student who shot her was indeed armed. Another student had tearfully reported being shown the gun during lunch hour but threatened not to tell, and the teacher who unsuccessfully searched the bookbag thought the student hid the gun in his pockets. Meanwhile the district superintendent has been let go - with $502,000 severance.

3/10/22  After being told by a school employee and a student that a 22-year old student had talked about packing a gun and was “acting erratically,” a Los Angeles school police officer took him out of class. She looked in his backpack. It contained a loaded, unserialized 9-mm “ghost” pistol that had been assembled from parts.

12/10/21  Two $100 million lawsuits have been filed against the Oxford Township school district by families of the victims. An investigation by the Washington Post revealed that families of would-be shooters prevented a handful of like events in past years. In 2018, in Everett, Washington, the guardian of Joshua O’Connor, 18, discovered the once-badly abused teen’s elaborate written plans to stage a Columbine-like massacre. She also found the 9mm. rifle he had just bought to carry out his intentions. Police were called, and their search turned up bomb parts. In 2019, after pleading guilty to attempted murder and other charges, O’Connor was sentenced to 22 years.

12/4/21  A prosecutor explained why the parents of the Oxford high school shooter were charged with manslaughter. (Click here for the video.) One day before the massacre, a teacher caught the youth searching for ammunition on his phone. His parents were informed. His mother later messaged her son “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” On the day of the shooting, while the parents were at the school, they were shown a photo of a note their son wrote. It depicted a gun, a bullet, a bleeding person, and these comments: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”,  “Blood everywhere”, “My life is useless”, “The world is dead.” But no one looked in the student’s backpack. His parents declined to take the boy home, and an hour later he committed the massacre.

12/2/21  A fourth student, age 17, succumbed in the massacre at Michigan’s Oxford High School. Authorities announced that the shooter, Ethan Crumbley, is being charged as an adult with murder and terrorism. He had apparently revealed his intentions the previous evening on an Instagram post that pictured the gun in his hands: “just got my new beauty today...I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow, Oxford.” On that day, but before the massacre, Crumbley’s parents were  summoned to his school over their son’s “concerning behavior.” Years earlier Crumbley’s mother posted an “open letter” to President Trump complaining about her son’s education and extolling gun ownership. Authorities may charge the parents for leaving the gun unsecured.

12/1/21  Armed with a 9mm. pistol his father recently bought, a 15-year old boy opened fire at a suburban Detroit high school, killing three students, ages 14, 16 and 17, and wounding eight others, including a teacher. Three of the surviving students are in critical condition. The shooter peacefully surrendered. His motive is presently unknown. (See 12/2/21 update.)

10/13/19 A 66-year old man with “anger management issues” shot and killed five other residents of the condo complex where he had long resided. According to police “most of the occupants inside the building have had problems with him in the past,” from being accused of “making too much noise to exchanging dirty looks to bumping into each other in the stairwell.”

8/22/19 Long Beach (CA) police credit a coworker for informing them that his colleague planned to shoot up their workplace to retaliate over a recent job-related issue. Officers arrested the man and seized a small arsenal, including a state-banned assault rifle and high-capacity magazines.

1/25/19 Zephen Xaver, 21, entered a Florida bank, ordered four employees and a customer to lie on the floor, and shot them in the head. All died. As a youth, Xaver’s dreams of taking students hostage led to his referral for treatment. That incident, as well as his recent message about taking hostages and committing “suicide by cop” had come to the attention of police. Xaver recently told a friend that he had bought a handgun.

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Another Day, Another Massacre     Two Weeks, Four Massacres     One Week, Two Massacres

Red Flag (I) (II)     Ban the Damned Things!     Massacre Control     All in the Family

Coming Clean in Santa Barbara     There’s No Escaping the Gun     The Elephant

Looking Beyond the Gun Barrel     Safe at Home, Not!     Gun Crazy     When a Pharmacist Kills

Don’t Blame the NRA     Hillary Shoots Duck     Shoot First     Disturbed Person

Posted 5/30/10


Cops need protection from rifle rounds, not just the ability to shoot back

    “Brandon and Bill had no chance against an AK-47.  They were completely outgunned.  We are dealing with people who rant and rave about killing. They want government officials dead.  We had a 16-year-old better armed than the police.”

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Five days after a father-and-son duo of right-wing extremists opened fire during a traffic stop, killing West Memphis police sergeant Brandon Paudert and officer Bill Evans, chief Bob Paudert, the late sergeant’s grieving father, came to roll call to help his officers deal with the deeply traumatic experience of losing two beloved colleagues.

     On May 13 sergeant Paudert (left) and officer Evans were on patrol when a white minivan with Ohio plates caught their attention.  They pulled the vehicle over and approached its driver, Jerry Kane, 45.  What they didn’t notice, at least not in time, was that Kane’s son Joe, 16, had grabbed an AK-47 rifle that his father always carried in the vehicle.  Within moments both officers lay dead.

     The van sped away.  It was later spotted in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  As sheriff Dick Busby and his top deputy, W. A. Wren approached the vehicle shots rang out, wounding both.  Other officers then rushed in and enveloped the van in a hail of gunfire, killing both occupants.

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     A self-styled sovereign citizen, Kane traveled around the midwest coaching homeowners fighting foreclosure.  Kane’s services were advertised on an extremist website.  Visitors were encouraged to print out letters advising creditors that they were due nothing because the entire mortgage process is a fraud.  (There’s even a sample complaint letter to send to the FBI.)

     Kane also posted debt nullification and patriot videos on YouTube.  One, featuring Kane and his son chuckling about “taking a bat” to an IRS agent, carries the father’s prophetic threat:  “I don’t want to have to kill anybody, but if they keep messing with me, that’s what it’s going to have to come out...And if I have to kill one, then I’m not going to be able to stop, I just know it.”

     Kane wasn’t just talking.  Recently while driving through New Mexico he encountered a police (“Nazi”) checkpoint.  Unable to produce a driver license or identification – as a “sovereign citizen” he didn’t feel that he needed either – he turned a simple ticket into an arrest and jailing.  Indeed, as far back as 2004 his antagonistic attitude towards police had so worried an Ohio sheriff that he warned deputies to be wary should they run into him.

     Kane’s legacy is defended by a number of supporters.  With his passing they’ve posted a memorial that praises Kane’s patriotism and questions the official account of his and his son’s demise.

     On April 26 Nye County (Nev.) sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a domestic argument with shots fired.  Diverting to a nearby casino where the woman supposedly went to take refuge, they encountered her male partner in the parking lot.  Without warning the man retrieved an SKS semi-automatic rifle from his vehicle and opened fire.  Deputy Ian Deutch, 27, was struck and killed by a round that penetrated his body armor.  A member of the National Guard, the deputy had just returned from a tour in Afghanistan.

     Both the AK-47, its commonplace MAK-90 variant (depicted) and the SKS use the 7.62 x 39 rifle cartridge, often called the Russian cartridge because of its adoption by that country’s armed forces.  Federal Cartridge Company’s fully jacketed, 124 grain version has a muzzle velocity of 2350 fps and a muzzle energy of 1520 ft/lbs.  To compare against typical handgun ammunition, a fully jacketed Federal 9mm. Luger bullet of the same weight has, at 1150 fps., only half the muzzle velocity, and at 364 ft/lbs. only one-quarter the muzzle energy.

     It’s the velocity, hence the energy of centerfire rifle ammunition that explains why an ordinary .30 caliber carbine bullet (1990 fps, 967 ft/lbs.) can penetrate all soft body armor commonly worn by police.  Resisting penetration from centerfire rifle bullets requires hard panel inserts.  NIJ tests these using conventional and armor-piercing 7.62 mm ammunition.  As one might expect, the resulting garments, known as Type III and IV, are far too heavy, hot and clumsy for use on patrol. (Left:  Rank Enterprises type III, non-armor piercing vest with alumina panels.)

     Centerfire rifle bullets cause devastating wounds.  According to Di Maio (“Gunshot Wounds,” 2nd. Ed.) as these projectiles traverse tissue they create a temporary, undulating cavity that can be as much as 12.5 times the bullet diameter.  “Organs struck by these bullets may undergo partial or complete disintegration.  The pressures generated are sufficient to fracture bone and rupture vessels adjacent to the permanent wound track but not directly struck by the bullet.” (p. 171)

     FBI’s most recent Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report indicates that 486 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed with firearms between 1997-2008.  Ninety (18.5 percent) were shot with rifles.  Forty of these fatalities were caused by 7.62 x 39 ammunition, used in the AK-47, its MAK-90 variant and the SKS.  In second place, responsible for twelve deaths, was the .223 caliber, used in the Colt AR-15, Colt Sporter, Ruger Mini-14 and assorted variants.  (It’s likely that 7.62 x 39 ammunition figures so prominently because American importers brought in huge numbers of MAK-90’s from China, where they were manufactured for the U.S. market.)

     Sixty-four percent (309) of the slain officers were killed while wearing body armor.  Two-hundred ninety-one died from strikes in unprotected areas, with head shots (115) predominating.  One-hundred officers succumbed to wounds in the torso.  Of these, 82 were struck in unprotected areas, including armholes and shoulder (38), below the vest (15), above the vest (13) and between side panels (11).

     Rounds penetrating the vest caused eighteen fatalities.  All but one involved rifle ammunition (the sole exception, a death caused by a 9mm. pistol, was attributed to a failure of vest material.)  Six were caused by 7.62 x 39 ammo, four by .223/5.56, two each by .30-06 and .30-30, and one each by .300, .308 and 7mm.

     In 2009 things took a turn for the worse.  According to preliminary FBI data 48 officers were feloniously killed, an increase of seven from 2008.  All but three fell to gunfire, and a full third (15) to rifles.  The latter group includes two incidents with three or more fatalities, the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh officers and the wounding of two by a deranged youth armed with an “assault rifle” and a pistol, and the gunning down of four Oakland officers (right) by a wanted parolee, two with a handgun and two with an “assault rifle” that he fired through a closet door as SWAT stormed in.

     Officers continue to be imperiled by rifles.  In an example earlier this year a 44-year old Pennsylvania man killed his wife, then fashioned a “perch” from which he shot and killed a trooper responding to what he thought was an ordinary domestic quarrel.  The weapon used?  An equally “ordinary” .30-30.

     Realizing the threat that they and law-abiding citizens face, police rightfully clamor to carry rifles.  Three weeks ago a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on patrol heard rapid gunfire.  Fetching his department-issue AR-15, he arrived at a residence just in time to wound and disable a man who had just shot up a home with an AK-47, killing three and wounding two, and was apparently on his way to shoot others.  That, too, was a domestic quarrel.

     Of course, better arming the police isn’t a complete solution.  Cops can’t brandish rifles or handle every call like a tactical assault, and should someone be unexpectedly lying in wait, as happened in Pittsburgh and rural Pennsylvania, there may be no opportunity for self-defense.  (The West Memphis chief reportedly instructed his officers to henceforth handle traffic stops in pairs, with one carrying a shotgun, but the long-term viability of that approach seems questionable.)

     What about reinstating the 1994 Federal assault weapons ban?  In Reviving an Illusion we pointed out that the “ban” was crafted to pose the least possible impediment to the gun industry, focusing on meaningless external characteristics such as flash suppressors and pistol grips while avoiding the key issue of ballistics altogether.  Colt, for one, quickly circumvented the law by renaming the AR-15 the “Sporter,” removing the flash suppressor and limiting magazine capacity to ten rounds.  Naturally, Sporters continued to chamber the same ammunition – the super-lethal .223 cartridge (muzzle velocity 3240 fps, muzzle energy 1282 ft/lbs.)  Here’s some of what the Violence Policy Center had to say when the “ban” came up for renewal ten years later:

    The 1994 law in theory banned AK-47s, MAC-10s, UZIs, AR-15s and other assault weapons. Yet the gun industry easily found ways around the law and most of these weapons are now sold in post-ban models virtually identical to the guns Congress sought to ban....”

     It’s clear that the firearms industry intends to keep marketing ever more lethal semi-automatic rifles and that nothing to change that is on the horizon.  So one would think that the government would be pulling out all the stops to give cops more physical protection.  Sadly, one would be wrong.  As we pointed out in DNA’s Dandy, But What About Body Armor? practical improvements have been glacial, with soft body armor that’s suitable for patrol now somewhat more comfortable but no more resistant to bullet penetration than twenty years ago.

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     Really, considering what street cops face there ought to be a body armor Manhattan Project, but Federal funding has been stingy and leadership scant.  What’s to be done?  Well, if you’ve read this far, stop what you’re doing, get on the horn (or keyboard) and press the IACP, PERF, Major Chiefs and DOJ to establish a vigorous, coordinated, well-funded program to improve police body armor, not in another two decades, but tomorrow.

     With ballistic threats reaching ever-higher levels, we need to give our cops a fighting chance.  It’s the least we can do, for them and ourselves.

UPDATES (scroll)

5/12/22  In a 2-1 decision, a Ninth Circuit panel held that California’s prohibition on the sale of semi-automatic rifles to persons under 21 violated the 2nd. Amendment. Both judges in the majority had been appointed under President Trump, while the dissenter was appointed under Clinton. Ruling

7/27/21  In Wasco, a town near Bakersfield, Calif., a 41-year old man armed with an AK-47 style rifle and a handgun opened fire inside his home. Neighbors called deputies and said occupants had been shot. Responding officers were fired on and took cover. Two SWAT members soon approached on foot. The shooter opened fire, reportedly through the windows, fatally wounding Deputy Phillip Campas, 35 and wounding his partner. Two other deputies sustained shrapnel injuries. Deputies shot and killed the assailant as he exited the home. His 42-year old wife and their 17 and 24-year old sons were found inside, all shot dead. A restraining order prohibiting the shooter from having guns was in effect.

10/5/18 A 74-year old veteran and disbarred lawyer who bragged about his abilities with military-style rifles unleashed a barrage from “a high powered rifle” on officers serving a search warrant at his Florence, South Carolina residence. One officer was killed and six were wounded. Five citizens were also hurt. Police deployed an armored vehicle to extricate the injured. More

3/11/18 In the New York Times and Washington Post, illustrated features about the grievous damage inflicted on the human body by ultra high-velocity projectiles such as those fired by AR-15 style rifles.

1/3/18 Douglas County, CO Deputy Zackari Parish was killed and four other deputies were wounded by a mentally troubled veteran and former lawyer who fired “more than 100 rounds” from a rifle before he was shot and killed.

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An American Tragedy      Going Ballistic     “Friendly Fire”     Ban the Damned Things!

Massacre Control     Bump Stocks     Silence Isn’t Always Golden     A Lost Cause

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (I)  (II)     Cops Need More Than Body Armor

DNA’s Dandy, But What About Body Armor?     Reviving an Illusion     Shootout at Times Square

Oakland: How Could it Happen?     There’s No Easy Solution     Looking Beyond the Gun Barrel

Disturbed Person     Long Live Gun Control     Gun Control is Dead


The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market

Posted 3/28/10


Welcome to Starbucks.  Would you like a box of nine mm’s with your latte?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Here’s a happy thought for criminal justice students who want to be cops.  Criminals with guns won’t be their biggest worry.  Considering our country’s increasingly permissive approach to carrying firearms it won’t be long before every time that citizens come into conflict at least one will be armed.

     Concealed carry was a privilege reserved for cops and a handful of other professionals, like couriers, who could demonstrate a pressing need.  No longer.  Thanks to politicians eager to curry favor with the NRA (or avoid becoming its target) packing heat has become an inalienable right.  At present forty states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, with a full thirty-six being “shall issue,” meaning that all who meet minimum standards must be granted a CCW permit without having to demonstrate any need whatsoever.

     Arizona, for example, requires that applicants be residents, 21 or older, not felons or under indictment for a felony, not mentally ill, and complete a gun safety training program.  (All but the last are what Federal law requires for buying handguns.)  A typical gun safety course is eight hours long and costs $79.  Students must bring or rent a weapon, a holster and thirty rounds of ammunition.  To make things convenient they complete their state concealed-carry application and get fingerprinted right on the spot.  Once five years pass a simple renewal form is on the web.

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     Not easy enough?  Then move to Vermont or Alaska, which don’t require a CCW permit.   That’s right: once you buy that handgun, pull out that shirttail and you’re good to go!  Last week the Arizona Senate preliminarily approved a measure that would make it the third state to allow concealed carry without a permit.  Considering the tenor of the times the law’s prospects seem bright.

     It’s a deeply guarded secret, but packing heat is less fun than it seems.  First there’s the matter of a heavy lump on one’s side.  Secondly – and this is the big one for poseurs – no one’s going to be awed by what they can’t see.

     So how better to impress than to carry openly?  That’s a far more sensitive topic than one might imagine.  Knowing that the specter of citizens openly packing might be unsettling, mainstream gun organizations have done little to champion concealed carry’s lesser cousin.  The gun lobby’s fringes, though, haven’t been nearly as reticent.  Operating under the umbrella of groups such as Open Carry, armed citizens have staged numerous armed “show and pose” visits.  Their destinations have included coffee houses, restaurants and at least one house of worship, in Louisville, whose pastor is one of the movement’s most, ahem, spirited advocates.

     Everyone knows that California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.  There’s a ten-day waiting period and buyers are limited to one handgun a month.  Localities have broad discretion in granting permits for concealed carry, and few are issued.  But as long as handguns are unloaded, carrying openly is generally permitted.

     That’s more or less the rule in most States.  Yet, except when they’re on field trips to Starbucks (Peet’s and California Pizza Kitchen have already said “no”) few open-carry advocates openly carry.  Wearing guns is a pain.  Doing so openly exposes them to ridicule, frightens children and brings unwelcome attention from the police.

     All the “defensive” hoopla aside, the chances that someone may actually need a gun are infinitesimally small.  During his law enforcement career your blogger pulled his sidearm exactly once while off-duty.  Driving home after work, he spotted hoodlums grappling with a youth, and when they forced him into the back of a car he stepped in and detained the whole bunch for the cops.  Even then it wasn’t your writer who needed saving – it was a dope dealer who had apparently failed to pay for his goods in the normal way, and was getting set to pay for them in another.

     Pulling a gun is dangerous.  It was dark and Feds don’t wear uniforms, so when police arrived your writer set down his pistol and raised his arms just like everyone else.  Skittish officers have occasionally shot unarmed citizens (as happened in L.A. last week) and, during confusing plainclothes encounters, each other (as has repeatedly occurred in New York City.)  Lacking experience, training and backup amateur law enforcers are at grave risk.  In November 2005 Brendan McKown, 38, a CCW permit holder tried to draw down on the Tacoma Mall shooter.  McKown didn’t get off a round; hit multiple times he wound up a paraplegic.

     Ordinary life is full of problems, and when guns are readily available the consequences can be tragic.  For every bonafide instance of defensive use there are countless examples of angry, depressed and mentally ill persons who used a weapon to settle grievances, both real and imagined:

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     In our permissive, gun-friendly atmosphere prevention is well-nigh impossible.  And checking the criminal records of concealed-carry applicants is of little help.  Richard Poplawski, the twenty-two year old youth who gunned down the Philadelphia officers, had a CCW permit.  A study by the Violence Policy Center revealed that during May 2007-May 2009 concealed-carry permittees feloniously shot and killed 42 private citizens and seven police officers, including the three mentioned above (for a current count, click here.)  Official reports confirm that the shooters in the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University massacres were hopelessly mentally ill, yet both passed checks and purchased their guns from licensed dealers.  As for that demented college professor, she got the gun from her husband.

     No pun intended, but this is a no-brainer.  Encouraging fallible humans to carry guns wherever they go is an invitation to disaster.  (If you still don’t believe it, click here.)

     It really is that simple.

UPDATES (scroll)

11/28/22  Permissive gun carry laws enable protesters to flaunt assault-style rifles and openly carry handguns. Recent episodes cited by the New York Times include an anti-trans rally in Nashville and a Juneteenth festival in Tennessee, where police ultimately stepped in to tone things down. A notable past event was the January 6, 2021 rally at the Arizona Capitol to protest the certification of the Presidential vote. Most armed protesters seem to be “Reds,” but in July, “Blue” activists with guns blocked Dallas city employees from clearing out a homeless camp.

11/4/22  A small-town mayor faces attempted murder charges. Dowen Jones, mayor of tiny Rufus, Oregon, was reportedly driving erratically, and when he stopped a vehicle containing two adults and two children slowly approached to check things out. Jones reacted by drawing his gun and firing multiple rounds at the car. No one was struck by his bullets, and he was arrested the next day. Official release

9/23/22  Airport security agents are finding more guns than ever on travelers at check-in, about 4,600 so far this year, with about 87 percent loaded. A gun-rights group suggests that it’s probably caused by an increased number of first-time gun owners, who may be “stressed” by the check-in process. Having a gun at a checkpoint doesn’t violate Federal criminal law but can result in a civil fine. However, it’s a misdemeanor in some States and could subject a traveler to arrest. TSA gun rules

12/14/21  According to TSA, “more than 5,700” guns have been seized from travelers at airport screening checkpoints so far this year. That surpasses the previous full-year high of 4,400 set in 2019. TSA Administrator David Pekoske thinks this reflects Americans’ increased tendency to be armed.

7/14/21  Alas, “BLOCK19”  is no more. After selling “fewer than 20” Glock-19 9mm. pistols whose exteriors were covered with Lego blocks, the Utah firm that produced the $549 to $765 fulfillment of “a childhood fantasy” bent to Lego’s threat to sue. Even some gun boosters thought that turning guns into what might to a child seem like a toy could lead to tragedy.

5/25/21  Overriding objections from some law enforcement groups, which pointed out that 2,422 Texans were denied CCW permits in 2020 because of their criminal records, Texas Governor Greg Abott said he will sign a “constitutional carry” bill on his desk that will make his State the twentieth (or by some counts, twenty-first) to let persons who are 21 or older and don’t have a disabling criminal record carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. In 2019, after mass shootings killed 23 in in El Paso and seven in Odessa, Governor Abott recommended “voluntary” background checks for private gun sales.

4/27/21  New York state requires that persons who wish to carry concealed guns apply for a license and show “proper cause.” A Federal appeals court had ruled that this restriction was valid. But on 4/26/21 the Supreme Court agreed to rule “whether the State's denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” (no. 20-843)

2/22/21  As of June 1 the long-standing right of Montana residents to carry concealed guns without a permit will extend to places such as banks, bars, State buildings (including the Capitol) and the universities. “Secure law enforcement facilities, federal buildings, courtrooms, and K-12 schools” will remain excepted. Montana is presently one of eighteen States that allow persons to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

5/7/20  After McDonald’s employees “physically” forced her to leave their restaurant’s closed lobby, an  Oklahoma City woman returned with a handgun and opened fire. Three employees were wounded, none critically. She was arrested nearby.

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Arizona Republic series on guns     Violence Policy Center -- Killings by CCW permittees

Posted 3/14/10


As the Supreme Court gets set to expand firearms rights,
an out-of-State gun brings havoc to the Big Apple

“It’s first day in New York, so it makes very real what you see in the movies.”

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  What Suzanne Davis captured on video wasn’t what she originally intended.  In addition to the usual touristy scenes the Australian visitor would be taking home sobering images of a young man sprawled lifelessly on the pavement, a fearsome-looking pistol and detached magazine lying inertly nearby.

     During the morning hours of December 10, 2009 NYPD plainclothes officers working Times Square approached two peddlers to ask for their permits.  Raymond Martinez, 25, bolted.  He was chased by Sergeant Christopher Newsom.  Martinez suddenly stopped.  Drawing a gun from his coat he pointed it at the officer and repeatedly squeezed the trigger.  Just steps away and with nowhere to hide, the 17-year police veteran instinctively pulled his pistol and fired four times.

     Miraculously, Martinez’s first two rounds missed.  His gun then jammed, reportedly because turning it sideways, hoodlum style didn’t let empty cartridges eject.  For the cop that was a very good thing, as Martinez’s gun held twenty-seven more rounds.

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     Sgt. Newsom didn’t miss.  Each of his bullets struck Martinez, killing him.

     Martinez was well known to police.  Cited not long before for unlicensed peddling, he was wanted for disorderly conduct and in connection with an assault.  Known on the streets as “Ready,” the would-be hip-hop artist had recently composed a rap tune whose lyrics now seem oddly prophetic:

    If they call the cops, then I'm aiming at the sergeant, like aiming at my target,
    and sure that f---ing dirty pig will feel it the hardest

     Martinez’s gun, a Masterpiece Arms MPA930T top-cocking, semiautomatic 9mm. pistol is a dead ringer for a MAC-10 machine pistol, the gangster’s favorite it was designed to imitate.  Authorities traced the weapon to Dale’s Guns, a retailer in Powhatan, Virginia.  Its owner, Dale Blankenship, said that the gun was purchased by a female customer on October 18, 2009.  As the law requires, she displayed Virginia ID and passed an in-store criminal record check.

     Ten days later she reported to police that the gun had been stolen from her vehicle.

     As we pointed out in an earlier post, New York State, which requires that handguns be licensed, grants localities broad discretion to determine who should get a permit and under what circumstances.  New York City makes it virtually impossible for an ordinary person to obtain permission to have a handgun in the city.

     That may soon change.  Washington, D.C. also used to prohibit handguns.  But two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court invalidated the law.  Whether its reasoning – that bearing arms is an individual right, independent of membership in a State militia – extends to non-Federal areas is the subject of McDonald v. City of Chicago, a challenge to that city’s handgun ban.  If, as most assume, the Justices rule against Chicago, New York City is next.

     Local handgun bans have always been an imperfect solution.  Since most states don’t vigorously regulate gun purchases, it’s easy for traffickers to acquire guns for resale where they’re prohibited.  Police recovered 5,129 guns in New York City in 2008, including 4,243 handguns.  Of the 2,758 that could be traced, 2,413 (87.5 percent) were first sold in another state.  Overall, the top five sources were Virginia (372), New York (345), Georgia (252), North Carolina (251), and Pennsylvania (247).

     A 2008 report used ATF gun recovery and trace data to estimate state export/import ratios.  The top five destination states were New Jersey (1:50, or one NJ gun recovered elsewhere for every fifty external guns recovered within), New York (1:14.3), Massachusetts (1:11.1), Rhode Island (1:6.3) and Illinois (1:5.9).  Top source states include New Hampshire (4.6:1, or nearly five NH guns recovered elsewhere for each external gun recovered within), West Virginia (4.2:1), Mississippi (3.7:1), Arkansas (3.1:1), and South Carolina (2.5:1).

     New York City’s arch-nemesis, Virginia, was the tenth largest source state (2.1:1).  With its legislators now poised to strike a long-standing rule limiting handgun purchases to one a month, it should soon move up in the rankings.

     Federal law offers little hope to areas besieged by outside guns.  Although it’s only legal to buy guns in one’s state of residence, Federal law doesn’t restrict quantity.  Private party transfers are also unregulated.  That’s right – if a transaction doesn’t involve a licensed gun dealer, the Feds require no paperwork or criminal record checks.  And while it’s illegal to give guns to felons, underage persons or residents of other states, lacking reporting or recordkeeping requirements compliance is impossible to monitor.

     An ATF study reviewed 1,530 gun trafficking investigations conducted between 1996-98.  Straw purchase – buying guns at dealers on behalf of others – was the most common way to illegally convey guns.  Many straw purchasers were friends or intimates of persons whose age or criminal record disqualified them from buying a gun.  Some straw buyers were working for gun traffickers, while others were themselves traffickers.

     A report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns indicates that straw purchase is common in states with weak gun laws.  In 2006 New York City sent pairs of private investigators – males posing as intended possessors, females posing as straw buyers – to sixty gun stores in five states that have a reputation as gun sources: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.  Fifteen dealers were caught on camera handing guns to the males while their partners filled out the paperwork.

     New York City sued.  Several gun stores eventually settled, agreeing to monitor purchases with video cameras and to train their staff to recognize the indicators of a straw purchase.  But Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell was furious.  He promptly got legislators to make it a felony for non-law enforcement agents to play a ruse on gun dealers.  NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg shrugged.  “We wish,” said his aide, “that Attorney General McDonnell was as aggressive in enforcing the laws that prevent illegal guns from getting in the hands of criminals as he was in enforcing the laws that protect the gun lobby.”

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     So what about the Times Square pistol?  NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed that its buyer, ostensibly a Virginia resident, had ties to New York City.  “Whether or not that is a legitimate theft is a matter that's being investigated.  We do see a pattern of people buying guns and then reporting them stolen. That may in fact be a method used here, as far as a straw purchase is concerned.”  Meanwhile ATF is investigating how the gun wound up on the streets of Gotham.  “Anything less than two years is a very important indicator that a weapon could be part of an interstate trafficking organization,” a spokesman said.  “If we can use this case to intercept other guns before they hit the streets of New York, we've succeeded.”

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Sources of Crime Guns in Los Angeles, California     Gun Control: Facts and Myths

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