2006-05-26 / Editorial/Opinion

From theEditor's Desk

By Howard Schwach


It is full-blown chutzpah for the National Rifle Association (NRA), the shining star of the right-wing gun lobby, to demand that mayors and police chiefs sign a "pledge" that they will never "forcibly disarm law-abiding citizens."

"Mayors and police chiefs have already sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States in their oaths of office, so signing the pledge should be just as effortless," said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, adding a veiled threat that anyone who did not do so would face the substantial wrath (and pocketbook) of the organization in the next election.

Of course, the question then , "what does law-abiding mean."

That's because the "law" as dictated by the NRA and codified by those it favors with its monetary largess and muscle often works against both common sense and the ability of law enforcement to get illegal guns off the street.

For example, one law passed by Congress says that state and local law enforcement agencies cannot use the gun database compiled by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in court cases. Why not? Because the NRA is afraid that the information will be used by municipalities to sue gun makers.

"The information [in those databases] is critical to tracking the guns used in crimes in New York City," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently.

Senator Charles Schumer has proposed a bill that would change that law, but he faces a long uphill climb against the NRA minions in his own organization.

"Illegal guns plague the streets of every big city in America and we can't tell law enforcement agencies to fight them with one hand tied behind their backs," the mayor said. "This bill would reverse the outrageous attempts to deny law enforcement agencies critical gun trace information that would help to save the lives of innocent people and police officers in New York City."

There is little chance that the bill will ever be signed by the President, however, even if it does pass both houses of Congress. Bush knows his constituency and they want no limits on guns and gun sales.

In many cases, the law facilitates the sale of guns that wind up illegally on the streets of New York rather than impede the gun traffic.

The city recently filed a lawsuit against fifteen out-of-state legal gun dealers (who may or may not have been selling all of their guns legally). Records show that more than 500 guns sold at those fifteen stores over the past ten years have been used in crimes in New York City.

That sounds like a fantastic number, but it is true. More than 500 guns used in crimes such as homicide in this city can be traced to only fifteen stores in Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

One shop in Orangeburg, South Carolina sold over that period of time 98 guns that were ultimately used in shootings in this city. In one case, it took only weeks for the gun to get from that shop - Woody's Pawn Shop - to its use in The Bronx.

How does it happen? Although the law varies from state to state, in most of those states, a resident can buy a gun each day simply by showing some form of identification that proves that he or she is a resident.

While the laws usually forbid one person buying a gun for another - what is called a "straw sale" - the question of who the gun is for is rarely asked unless it is obvious at the point of sale that it is for another person.

So, a Rockaway thug gets into his car and drives five hours down Route 95 to Danville, Virginia where he cruises around for a while, hits some bars, meets some friends.

Eventually, he meets a resident who is willing to buy a couple of guns for him. They go to the Old Dominion Gun and Tackle, a forgiving gun shop in Danville.

Our Rockaway perp-to-be gives his new friend a couple of hundred dollars and in ten minutes, he's got a gun. Do the same thing each day for a couple of days in different gun shops around the area and for $2,000 he's got four guns he can sell for $6,000 in Rockaway. He drops a little cash on his new friend, drives north and sells three of the guns for more than $5 grand and keeps the best one for himself.

Instant death with little fuss.

All of the transactions at the gun shops are "legal" except they are "straw sales," but nobody bothered to ask about that.

Dennis Alberson, 48 is the owner of the Old Dominion Gun and Tackle. He was tracked down by Greg Wilson, a reporter for the New York Daily News.

When asked about the problem, Alberson said, "We do everything possible to ensure that all the correct credentials are presented before somebody can buy a hand gun. Once the guns are sold, and they leave our control, well, there's any number of ways a gun can wind up in the hands of a criminal."

You can hear the concern for the victims of the guns he sells in his voice. Right!

Larry Mickalis, the owner of a pawn shop in South Carolina who sold 49 guns that were used in New York City crimes over the past ten years, said, "I don't feel that guns that are stolen out of people's houses or bought through deception have anything to do with my store in South Carolina."

The story of those sales in the Daily News and other papers around the nation sparked the NRA's pledge idea, experts say.

"Somebody better get those boys [at the NRA] some Prozac," said Peter Hamm of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "The mayor must've really gotten under their skin to have them come out with such a farcical scheme."

"The gun lobby doesn't want people to understand that bad guys get guns through legal dealers," another anti-gun activist said. "They want everybody to think that bad guys do bad things to get their guns."

And, while most city residents applaud the mayor for going after the legal dealers, there are those who think it's the wrong approach.

"Like most zealots, Mayor Bloomberg is allowing his emotions to overwhelm his reason," said one correspondent to the New York Post. ""If they're breaking the law, it's the government's responsibility to imprison them. If, on the other hand, they are involved in legal commerce, even of a product that Bloomberg doesn't like, the mayor has no business using the city's resources to bankrupt them."

That's the old "as long as I am obeying the law, I'm doing nothing wrong" defense that works only when the law in question is a positive for society. When a group of gun lobbyists who donate millions of dollars to our federal legislators to pass laws that are not positive for anybody but that gun lobby, however, all bets should be off.

Perhaps our legislators should pass a law that would extradite and try any person selling a gun outside of New York State that is then used in crime within the state. Wouldn't that get the juices flowing.

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