The NRA's annual convention just concluded in Phoenix. Sixty thousand people attended. Politicians of both parties came to genuflect before the powerful gun-ownership lobby.
Even home-state Senator John McCain checked his straight talk at the door. As someone who knows the impact Mexican drug cartels have on Arizona and other border states, McCain could have offered some tough love to his NRA backers. Instead, he took pot-shots at government math on gun issues.
The NRA has, quite rightly, jumped on an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder and others that more than 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexico are traced back to the United States. Holder was using a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) report that said 90% of the guns seized in Mexico that could be traced were traced back to the U.S. It was slipshod of Holder and others not to be more careful with numbers. It made it possible for the NRA to assert that only 17% are traceable to the U.S., a number just as improbable in one direction as 90% is in the other.
This is an NRA tactic skillfully employed over the years: Jump on a side issue and ignore the big picture. It enabled McCain and other politicians to keep from talking frankly in Phoenix last week. Not that they were inclined to do it anyway.
A year ago, William Hoover, ATF assistant director for field operations, briefed Congress on increasingly violent Mexican drug cartels and where they're getting guns. "Public safety along the U.S.-Mexico border has deteriorated considerably and Mexico has seen nearly four years of intensified turf battles between the three major DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] operating within Mexico," he testified, adding the cartels "have more aggressively turned to the U.S. as a source of firearms." He further testified:
"The increased incidence of firearms trafficking to Mexico (from the U.S.) is influenced by numerous factors, including:
"The strict prohibition and regulation of firearms in Mexico; coupled with the increased enforcement efforts by the Mexican government and the increased demand for firearms by the DTOs;
"A readily accessible source of firearms and ammunition originating in mostly the secondary market such as gun shows, flea markets and private sales;
"Illegal "straw purchases" of firearms from FFLs [licensed dealers] who are often unwitting participants in these schemes."
The "gun show-flea market" point is the most troubling because it can – and should – be easily corrected. Licensed firearms dealers are required to do criminal background checks when they sell guns at a gun show or anywhere else. Such checks usually don't result in delays; about three-quarters are completed within 30 minutes, according to ATF statistics.
However, current law allows individuals and casual sellers at gun shows to avoid the background check requirement. These people make up between a quarter and a third of the sellers at gun shows. Does it make any sense that they should be exempt from doing background checks, especially when National Tracing Center technology makes it simple?
In April, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) proposed the Gun Show Background Check Act of 2009 to close the loophole. Given the NRA's powerful lobby, passage is doubtful. But I'm left wondering why.
Why would we think it is OK to allow anyone at a gun show – including felons, fugitives and potential terrorists – to buy a gun with no questions asked from an individual even though a background check is already required when a licensed dealer sells a gun?
The legislation defines a gun show as an event where 50 or more firearms are offered or exhibited for sale. That puts an end to the idea an across-the-fence sale negotiation between two neighbors could be interpreted as a "gun show."
The NRA seems to believe if it gives an inch on any gun issue the Second Amendment will be in jeopardy. That's nonsense. If anything, a Supreme Court decision earlier this year, strengthen the right of citizens to have firearms.
It is time for the NRA and its adherents to exercise common sense and national concern as it deals with issues like the Mexican drug cartels? The gun show loophole is an excellent place to demonstrate that common sense and concern.