Gun Dealers

July 13, 1999

Since the shootings at Columbine High School, gun control advocates have proposed all sorts of new controls on firearms. These include such things as child safety locks, background checks, waiting periods, dealing with gun shows and the like. Critics have suggested that these newest round of gun control regulations would have a marginal effect. The real problem, they say, is that existing federal firearms laws have not been enforced. Enforcement of existing laws, rather than new laws, is their solution.

A recent report from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms suggests the critics may be right. "The ATF found that just 389 federally licensed gun dealers (out of more than 100,000 nationwide) were responsible for selling nearly 50 percent of the guns used in crimes between 1996 and 1997 that could be traced by federal law-enforcement authorities." In other words, the problem really stems from a handful of corrupt dealers. Enforce the existing laws with these dealers, and many of the firearms problems go away.

There are really two problems the ATF must address. First, corrupt dealers circumvent paperwork requirements and sell guns illegally. Second, corrupt dealers allow for so-called "straw purchases" where one person buys a gun on behalf of someone else.

A third concern turns out not to be a concern after all. Gun control advocates worry that huge numbers of guns are transported hundreds of miles into eastern states. The ATF report documents that, where it could trace the guns used in crimes, 50 percent were purchased within 50 miles of the crime scene.

Passing new firearms laws may sound like a good idea until you look at the facts. When a small number of dealers are flouting the law, isn't the best solution to have federal agencies (the FBI, the ATF, and the Justice Department) investigate and prosecute? That seems like the best policy to me.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.