If Gun Buyers Were Mexican

The NYT has a follow-up on Charlie Savage’s earlier article about all the gun safety provisions lying dormant at DOJ. It describes the gaps in the background check system due to states not sharing their data with the federal government.

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.

In the past I’ve drawn a comparison between our country’s treatment of terrorists and gun nuts, arguing that it has prioritized the less urgent threat.

But this background check database raises interesting comparisons with DHS’ Secure Communities, particularly the effort to ensure that any undocumented person arrested for a crime gets deported. Like terrorism, Secure Communities has hit a point of diminishing returns. As with terrorism, Secure Communities is built to allow for false positives.

Nevertheless, the government has prioritized getting that database completely functioning, with participation from every state.

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.

Not so with gun buyers, apparently.

And the comparison here offers one other lesson. One reason for the delay in data-sharing from the states is the difficulty in implementing an appeals process.

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.

Frankly, ensuring people have due process is one of the least offensive things the NRA does (would that they championed the civil rights of felons more generally).

If we demand this for gun ownership, why don’t we demand it for far more damaging terrorism and deportation data mining?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

3 replies
  1. scribe says:

    You ask:

    “If we demand this for gun ownership, why don’t we demand it for far more damaging terrorism and deportation data mining?”

    Because, in the words of the bumpersticker: “I’m the NRA and I VOTE” and because they back that up with primarying people who vote against their interests. In the slightest.

    You should also note that all the federal-law disqualifications from owning/purchasing a gun – insanity, felony conviction, misdemeanor DV conviction, DV restraining order, you can go down the whole list – require an adjudication. In other words, due process must be observed and applied.

    Right now, OTOH, most of the left blogosphere and lame-stream media are busy screaming for more gun control, confiscation or whatever in a fit of public-relations-fueled frenzy. Frankly, the left blogosphere and most of the lame-stream media are outdoing the right-wing media and blogosphere in how they demanded people give up their rights in the aftermath of 9/11. But that was near a dozen years ago and people have forgotten, more or less.

    Frankly, the ACLU and the NRA have far more in common than in difference. But too many people on the ACLU side want to take those nasty guns away from those icky boys, and too many people on the NRA side refuse to acknowledge people accused of crimes or difference are entitled to rights. It’s a skillful piece of propagandizing, carried out across decades, that has put these organizations’ supporters in virulent opposition, when their interests would be served by a little understanding, followed by cooperation.

    But people just want to shout now – everyone it seems is more interested in creating heat rather than light.

  2. scribe says:

    One more thing: in the last year, the federal form one fills out before going through the instant background check? It’s been modified to ask whether the buyer is/appears Mexican. That’s in response to the ongoing drug wars along the border and concomitant gun-running.

  3. Bill Michtom says:

    @scribe Your comments seem to be simulations of what you claim others are doing, what with the name-calling and unsupported accusations.

    While I have seen much similar ranting to yours and your accusations on FB, I have seen substantial journalism and explorations of what other countries do for gun control, historical surveys of gun-control efforts and their successes and failures, and a variety of suggestions for solutions that were not thoughtless rants.

    Would you like links? And would you support your complaints with links, too?

    Thanks.

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