Democrats are tired of gun shops evading responsibility for the killing machines they sell so casually, and if they get their way, gun stores are going to have to share some of the burden of accountability for the violent crimes committed once a weapon is purchased from their store. A Democratic bill filed to Congress, proposes that shops whose inventory is used in a shooting will be subject to more scrutiny and gives authorities the power to inspect stores that may have neglected gun laws.
The bill, known as “The Gun Dealer Accountability Act”, is sponsored by Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat. If passed, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would be allowed to inspect gun shops more frequently. This law also requires lists of inventory from gun stores regarding guns that have been used in more than ten crimes over two years and that have illegally transferred guns. This period of inspection is unspecified but according to Moore’s office would likely last up to two years.
Gun shops are run with an extreme level secrecy that has been institutionalized by the government. They are protected by federal law from releasing public records of the guns they have in their inventory; they can only be inspected once a year. This creates an environment of un-traceability. An extreme instance of this occurred in 2007, when 30,000 guns went “missing” from a shop. “Firearms that ‘disappear’ from gun shops with no record of sale are frequently trafficked by gun traffickers and prized by criminals because the guns are virtually untraceable,” according to the Brady Center, a gun control advocacy group.
If suspicious gun shops are tracked down and controlled, a decrease in crime is almost guaranteed. This would be targeting the problem closer to the source. This figure is shocking, according to a 2004 report by the American for Gun Safety Foundation, 57 percent of the guns used in crimes come from just 1 percent of gun stores.
The selling of guns to criminal’s traces back to the gun shop in a real way, “Shoddy paperwork, improper background checks and “straw” purchases by people who buy guns for others who can’t legally own them, often felons, can all contribute to guns winding up in the wrong hands,” Gwen Moore explained.
Gun control is a huge issue in Milwaukee in particular, where shooting deaths have risen almost 50 percent so far this year—with 105 in total. Moore holds stolen guns accountable.
“It’s one part of the equation,” said Eric Harris, a spokesman for Moore. The bill “will certainly help address a critical component to the violence.”
“It’s not the way you think it is, like at Walmart where they can pull up on a computer everything that’s in the store,” said an ATF spokesman. “There’s not like a running inventory of how many guns you have. If the log is not accurate when a robbery or burglary occurs, there’s nothing we have to fall back on. We’re taking them at their word.”
The National Rifle Association, and the politicians they can leverage, are likely to do what they can to block this measure, especially considering the 2005, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This act makes it nearly illegal to bring a charge against a gun distributor. One would have to prove “extreme negligence” to even begin the process.
The lack of access to gun records, and information in general is relatively new. Ten years ago a Republican from Kansas, Todd Tiahrt, introduced a prohibition on ATF in which they were no longer able to make the public aware of which gun stores are tied to those used as murder weapons.
The Gun Dealer Accountability Act sets to reverse this particular prohibition, “This bill would temporarily restore the ATF’s power to ensure that guns do not simply ‘disappear’ and end up on our streets,” commented Moore’s office.
If passed, this will be a step in the right direction for gun control. Sharing accountability is paramount, when considering all the hands that the gun passes through on its way to becoming a murder weapon. A gun is not harmless until fired, it is just a waiting game before the trigger is puller. Gun shops need to be responsible for the inventory that passes from their hands into those of a potential criminal. This is not a cure-all or even major progress in the right direction, but if passed, it is a baby step towards the major gun reform legislation we desperately need.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.