Gun Law Enforcement Compromised As ATF Handcuffed By Weapons Lobby

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Wayne Lapierre, CEO of National Rifle Association

[Op-Ed]

'There are nearly four times as many licensed gun dealers than McDonald’s franchises nationwide...'

 

Last week, America witnessed yet another tragic mass shooting at Fort Hood, where a disgruntled and mentally unstable soldier killed three and wounded 16 before taking his own life.

It is disturbing that members of the Armed Services risk their lives for us abroad only to become victims of violence at their home military base. I send my deepest sympathies to the victims and their families. While mass shootings like this justifiably command national attention, we must not overlook the equally senseless homicides and gun violence that we glance over in the local media — we must renew our efforts to curtail gun violence.

We cannot continue to accept the status quo as the norm. Only two weeks ago in my community in New York City, a husband and father of two was shot dead on an MTA bus while speaking on the phone with his mother. The victim was a hardworking immigrant who embodied an individual chasing the American Dream— a man on the way from his first job to his second one to provide for his family.  He was killed instantly with a revolver when a 14-year-old mistakenly fired it while aiming at a rival gang member on the bus.

This tragedy is heartbreaking for both the families of the victim and the alleged shooter who has ruined his life before it truly began. Instead of pursuing his ambitions for the future, the teenager will likely spend the majority of his life behind bars. Why is it still so easy for an adolescent to get a firearm today in New York City?

Before we even debate on the need for more or less “gun control,” we should enforce the gun laws that we already have. The task of keeping guns off our streets is not the failure of local law enforcement but a federal agency responsible for public safety, known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The ATF has been handcuffed from carrying out one of its chief objectives to curtail gun trafficking because of the politicization of the agency. Unlike every other law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, it has been the only one not to receive a surge in federal funding post-9/11.

This lack of funding keeps the agency from investigating unethical gun dealers, and keeps the number of agents within its ranks low. In 2012 there were only 2,442 agents to monitor over 58,000 gun dealers and tasked with ensuring the 300 million guns circulating within our country do not fall into the hands of gangs, criminals, and the mentally-ill.

Under current law the ATF cannot transfer the responsibility to prosecute the illegal use and trafficking of firearms to any other agency. This is why this past year I wrote and sponsored H.R. 1728: The Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act.

The bill currently has bipartisan support in Congress, and if enacted, would allow the ATF to once again conduct physical inventories of questionable firearm businesses that have a history of having been the supplier of guns that end up in crimes. My bill would repeal the appropriation rider that barred the ATF from creating a federal registry of gun transactions.

A precedent that should have been set long ago, but has been thwarted out of a ridiculous fear by gun lobbyist; that the federal government would use such a registry to seize firearms. Yet thanks to the very same gun lobby, the ATF workforce is so low they can only inspect a gun dealer once every ten years. How then could they possibly confiscate every law abiding American citizen’s gun collection?

I find it shocking that there are nearly four times as many licensed gun dealers than McDonald’s franchises nationwide; there are over 7,500 food and consumer safety inspectors nationally assigned to roughly 6,200 federal slaughter, food processing and import establishments. It makes no sense that while we have such a significant number of dedicated personnel working to ensure food safety, we have but so few to prevent the sale of firearms to criminals, children or the mentally-ill.

If individuals planning to commit crimes find it increasingly difficult to get their hands on a firearm, we are all safer. With reduced crimes, there would be less need for individuals to seek concealed weapons permits, or inspire such contentious legislation like Stand Your Ground law.

The Second Amendment is not only a right but a responsibility, a dty to ensure that only those among us who have proven to be honest, rational and upstanding citizens should have the right to bear arms. Congress needs to allow the ATF to do its job of protecting us.

 

Rep. Rangel represents New York's 15th Congressional District 

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