Reasonable Doubter

About this Blog: CIO.com’s Reasonable Doubter Constantine von Hoffman keeps a close eye on technology, government, public policy, privacy and security to help readers see the forest for the trees—and the facts through the BS.

Reasonable Doubter

Why it Should be Legal for the ATF to Use Computers to Track Gun Sales

The U.S. agency responsible for keeping tabs on the legal sale of guns in America is prevented by law from using computers to track sales. CIO.com blogger Constantine von Hoffman says overturning the law is a common sense way to make gun sellers more responsible for their actions.

to Security |

In a time when drinking water is a politically polarizing issue it is hardly surprising gun control in America is practically bringing people to blows. There is a simple solution to the problem. Unfortunately it requires looking at facts.

First there is the fact that the term "gun control" is utter nonsense.

As of 2007 civilians in the United States owned approximately 294 million firearms: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles and 83 million shotguns, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That is nearly one gun for every legal resident, making the United States the most heavily-armed nation in the world.

The issue of controlling access to guns can be settled with facts, if not laws. Legal issues aside, the U.S. government has no practical way to find and seize anything resembling a significant number of Americans' weapons.

So let’s call the issue "gun-seller responsibility" and not gun control, because that's what it has boiled down to in Congress.

On one side you have groups like the NRA, an organization that this week rejected a bill to "[h]elp fund state programs aimed at disarming those who buy guns legally, but are later disqualified from ownership because they've committed a serious crime or been deemed mentally ill."

The NRA opposes this because it might lead to the creation of a registry of guns and gun owners. If that happens, the NRA thinks Americans won't be able to protect themselves from the tyrannical government. For some reason the NRA is okay with background checks when weapons are sold via official retail channels, but it is against checks for person-to-person weapon sales at gun shows.

I repeat: The issue of controlling access to guns can be settled with facts, if not laws. Legal issues aside, the U.S. government has no practical way to find and seize anything resembling a significant number of Americans' weapons.

On the other side are folks who want new laws designed to address the problem. Some of these laws are silly and some, like the one cited above, are quite reasonable.

Another way to improve the situation without enacting a bunch of new laws (no matter how sensible): Give the ATF the ability to track gun sales and perform background checks using…GASP…computers!

From The New York Times:

"When law enforcement officers recover a gun and serial number, workers at the bureau’s National Tracing Center here—a windowless warehouse-style building on a narrow road outside town—begin making their way through a series of phone calls, asking first the manufacturer, then the wholesaler and finally the dealer to search their files to identify the buyer of the firearm. About a third of the time, the process involves digging through records sent in by companies that have closed, in many cases searching by hand through cardboard boxes filled with computer printouts, hand-scrawled index cards or even water-stained sheets of paper."

The ATF is prevented by law from using computers because it might create a registry of owners which would somehow contravene the Second Amendment which says, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Here are two quotes from Federalist Paper #29, the only real discussion of the gun-control issue by the people who wrote the Constitution:

"[The Union has the power] to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS." (Capitalization is in the original text)

"To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss." (Emphasis added)

In other words, Americans shall be able to create said militias in order to oppose a tyrannical federal government; and one person with a gun doesn’t qualify as a militia.

The ATF already has these gun records. It is just forbidden from making use of them in any beneficial way.


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