Monday, December 24, 2012

The National Rifle Association (NRA) sells everything from its political agenda to its merchandise with a simple equation: more guns equal more freedom. The NRA steadfastly maintains that the 30,000 gun-related deaths with firearms in the United States every year are a small price to pay to guarantee freedom.
"A people cannot long retain their freedom, whose government is incapable of protecting them." 

- Oliver Ellsworth, a drafter of the constitution, advocate for a strong federal government, and the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
When gun enthusiasts talk about "freedom," they have something specific in mind—freedom from government oppression. In their view, unfettered access to firearms is the key ingredient to protecting individual rights from overreaching by government. They argue that the only way to keep centralized authority in check is to ensure that individual citizens retain the capability to confront the government with force of arms. 

As NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has said, “The people have a right to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.” 
This idea, which we call “insurrectionism,” is part of a broader ideological perspective that opposes a strong, activist government in nearly all of its forms. Insurrectionist philosophy degrades the democratic values and institutions that protect all of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Gun lobby extremists have been perfectly willing to trample on any freedom that gets in the way of their pursuit of unrestricted private access to firearms (i.e., property rights, access to justice, freedom of information, public safety, etc.). This toxic mix of ideology and firepower has moved beyond rhetoric and resulted in real violence in our country.

FBI Gun Background Check
Database Missing Millions Of Records On Mentally Ill

The Huffington Post | By Jeffrey Young Posted: 12/21/2012 2:30 pm EST | Updated: 12/21/2012 2:59 pm EST 

Feedral safeguards meant to keep guns out of the hands of potentially violent individuals have a huge shortcoming: the database used for background checks may be missing millions of records about people with mental illnesses who are forbidden to own firearms

Despite improvements in recent years, state governments are failing to submit records to the Federal Bureau of Investigations of people with mental illnesses who have been institutionalized or otherwise deemed by authorities to be dangerous to themselves or others, 

The New York Times reported Friday. The Times cited a 2011 study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 700 city officials that is co-chaired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), an outspoken proponent of stricter gun control laws .

The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers, including those who have tested positive for illegal drugs or have a history of domestic violence. 

The firearms used to murder 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., last week were legally purchased by one of the victims, Nancy Lanza, 52. Lanza was the mother of the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who committed suicide at the scene of the massacre. 

Current gun laws to prevent people with mental illnesses from buying firearms apply to people who may not be prone to violence while leaving out others who may be, The Huffington Post reported Monday. 

People who have been institutionalized or subject to legal sanctions related to their mental health conditions can't buy guns, regardless of whether their illnesses are associated with violence. At the same time, individuals with mental illnesses or histories of violence who haven't been processed by the legal system don't fall under these rules. 

The weapons used in the Newtown murders and the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., last year that took six lives and severely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) were purchased legally by people not subject to gun law restrictions, as were the firearms used by the alleged killer of 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater this year. 

Nevertheless, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre on Friday called for the government to establish a registry of everyone in America with a mental illness. "How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame," he said a news conference during which he took no questions from reporters. "A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?" 

Advocates for people with mental illnesses object to characterizations of such individuals as inherently dangerous and argue that broadening restrictions against gun ownership by including more people in the background check database encourages unfair stereotyping. Requiring people with mental illnesses to essentially register with the FBI could discourage them from seeking treatment, the National Alliance on Mental Illness contends. 

U.S. gun control laws dating to the 1968 limit firearms ownership for categories of citizens including those with felony convictions and people designated by a court or another official body as a danger to themselves or others, who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or who have pleaded insanity in a criminal trial. 

To improve enforcement of these restrictions, the federal government established the the National Instant Criminal Background Check Systems Index as part of the so-called Brady Bill of 1993. The system is designed to screen people prohibited by law from legally obtaining firearms. 

The background checks database has 7.3 million active records of people not allowed to buy guns, and 1.4 million of those records were related to mental illnesses as of Dec. 31, 2011, according to an FBI report. 

The database consists in part of information states submit to the FBI. But states have failed to provide federal authorities with records of people who fall under the mental illness provisions of gun control laws, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Nineteen states have transmitted fewer than 100 records to the FBI relating to people with mental illnesses, according to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report. "That suggests that millions of names are missing from the federal database, gun control advocates and law enforcement officials say," The New York Times reported. 

The man who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 shouldn't have been allowed to purchase firearms, but Virginia failed to submit his records to the FBI -- so he passed a background check. The following year, Congress tied federal crime-fighting dollars to states' submission of such information. 

Since the change in law, the number of mental-health records in the FBI database has more than doubled, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Virginia has significantly improved its performance since the Virginia Tech killings, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Virginia, led by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, has led the nation in reporting. Mr. McDonnell is an advocate of gun rights, but he also has emphasized the importance of the national database for background checks. Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Related on HuffPost:

Gaps in F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks for Guns

Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times 

Dennis Pratte, owner of a gun store in Falls Church, Va., said he sold weapons only to buyers who cleared a background check.

Published: December 20, 2012

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly two decades after lawmakers began requiring background checks for gun buyers, significant gaps in the F.B.I.’s database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms every year who should be barred from doing so.

The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers, including those who have tested positive for illegal drugs or have a history of domestic violence.

While some states, including New York, have submitted more than 100,000 names of mentally ill people to the F.B.I. database, 19 — including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland and Maine — have submitted fewer than 100 records and Rhode Island has submitted none, according to federal data compiled by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That suggests that millions of names are missing from the federal database, gun control advocates and law enforcement officials say.

“Until it has all the records of people out there in the country who have been deemed too dangerous to own a firearm, the background check system still looks like Swiss cheese,” said Mark Glaze, director of the group. The gaps exist because the system is voluntary; the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the federal government cannot force state officials to participate in the federal background check system. As a result, when a gun dealer asks the F.B.I. to check a buyer’s history, the bureau sometimes allows the sale to proceed, even though the purchaser should have been prohibited from acquiring a weapon, because its database is missing the relevant records.

While the database flaws do not appear to have been a factor in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, they have been linked to other attacks, including the Virginia Tech mass murder in 2007. In that case, a Virginia state judge had declared the gunman mentally ill, but the record of that proceeding was not submitted to the F.B.I. He was able to pass a background check and buy the weapons he used to kill 32 people and wound 17 others.

Since then, Virginia has increased its submissions to the F.B.I. But other states have not taken similar steps because of lack of political will, technical obstacles and state privacy laws, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which conducted a survey of states last year about their compliance. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York is a co-chairman of the group.

A July report by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan Congressional watchdog, found that the total number of mental health records submitted by states to the background check system increased to 1.2 million from about 126,000 between 2004 and 2011, but that the increase largely reflected the efforts of just 12 states. And, it found, 30 states were not making noncriminal records — like positive drug test results for people on probation — available to the system.

Charles H. Ramsey, the police commissioner in Philadelphia, said the system needed to be strengthened immediately. “There is a lot of data sitting in different places, and we need to be able to access it in a timely fashion,” he said. “It ought to be a top priority now.”

The gaps in the database have exacerbated the effect of a loophole that results in violent felons, fugitives and the mentally ill being able to buy firearms when the F.B.I. cannot determine the person’s history during a three-day waiting period.

Roughly 97 percent of the time, specialists said, the F.B.I. can provide an instant answer, but sometimes an ambiguity — an arrest record that does not say whether someone was convicted, or a common name — requires calling local courthouses to track down the information.

That can cause delays as local officials search through records, some of which are not yet digitized, law enforcement officials said. If the F.B.I. investigation is not completed within the waiting period, would-be gun buyers are permitted to go ahead.

Since 2005, 22,162 firearms — including nearly 3,000 this year — have been bought after the waiting period by people later determined to have been disqualified because of their criminal and mental histories, according to an examination of F.B.I. data.

Some of the weapons were used in violent crimes, including a fatal drive-by shooting, but it is not clear how many were linked to criminal acts, because authorities are barred by Congress from tracking such information.

Many of the guns were not swiftly confiscated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as federal law requires, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials and government documents. It could take weeks or months to collect them, if ever, the officials said, because the agency is too thinly stretched to make retrieval a high priority.

The bureau and several of its agents said in interviews that they focused on trying to recover firearms from felons who had recently committed a violent crime or were under a restraining order. But Scot Thomasson, a former chief of the A.T.F.’s firearms operations division who retired this year, said that Congress, facing pressure from gun lobbyists, had made it hard for the agency to do its job by restricting its funding, forcing tough decisions.

“If you are an agent and are hot on the trail of a guy who killed a lot of people,” he said, “you are not going to turn around and work on one of these cases.”

Some gun shops say they sell to buyers who have not been cleared in the three-day window, including Bass Pro Shops, which has 58 stores in the United States. “We follow the law,” said Larry L. Whiteley, a spokesman. But if a buyer is “jittery or acting funny,” he said, “we won’t sell them the firearm.”

Other businesses — including the country’s largest gun dealer, Walmart — say they do not sell firearms to buyers if the F.B.I. has not responded in the three-day window. Dennis Pratte, owner of the NOVA weapons store in Falls Church, Va., said, “We are just as concerned about firearms getting into the wrong hands as the state police or the F.B.I.”

After the school shooting in Newtown, in which 20 first graders and six adults were killed, pressure has mounted on President Obama and lawmakers to strengthen federal gun laws. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would lead a task force to propose ways to limit sales of assault weapons and close loopholes.

That probably will focus attention on the F.B.I.’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system, which was required by the 1993 Brady background-check law.

At an office building in Clarksburg, W.Va., servers and backup drives hum in a huge basement. Upstairs, workers with headsets sit in cubicles, taking calls from gun dealers across the country. In 2012, about 17 million background checks have been done through the F.B.I.’s system.

The background check requirements apply only to licensed dealers, not the private sellers who account for an estimated 40 percent of sales. Restrictions imposed by Congress on government tracking of firearms make it hard to know exactly how many weapons are sold each year, but according to the A.T.F., more than five million firearms are manufactured each year for sale in the United States, and about three million more such weapons are imported. Those numbers do not account for the sale of used guns.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress enacted a law designed to improve the background check system, including directing federal agencies to share relevant data with the F.B.I. and setting up a special grant program to encourage states to share more information with the federal government. But only states that also set up a system for people to petition to get their gun purchasing rights restored were eligible under the law — a key concession to the National Rifle Association — which proved to be an extra hurdle many states have not yet overcome.

While the law also allowed the Justice Department to withhold some general law enforcement grant money from states that did not submit their records to the system, the department has not imposed any such penalties, the G.A.O. found. After the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded, the Justice Department developed a blueprint to close the holes in the background check system, including steps that could be taken by executive order and not require Congressional action. But the recommendations were largely shelved at the time because the political atmosphere was deeply hostile to new gun control steps.

Lawmakers and groups for gun control have pushed a bill called the Fix Gun Checks Act, co-sponsored by Representative Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Charles E. Schumer, both New York Democrats, to resolve many of the problems. Their proposals, however, have faced stiff opposition from gun rights advocates. This week, Ms. McCarthy, whose husband died in a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road 19 years ago, called for her legislation to move, saying the Newtown schoolchildren massacre had changed the political environment.

“There’s always sadness after a mass shooting — there’s public mourning,” she said. “But this time I’m also seeing a lot of anger. Anger from people fed up with gun violence in America. Anger from people fed up with the gun lobby’s tactics in Washington. And anger from people fed up with the lack of courage that too many of the politicians here have.”

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