Shortage of hard data on firearms rooted in gun-control debate

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Guns, Politics, States Rights

By Jennifer Brown
The Denver Post


As Colorado lawmakers push closer to passing a spate of new gun laws, they have almost no data about who owns firearms in this state or even where criminals get their guns.

Coloradans do not have to register their guns with the government. Background checks required to purchase firearms are destroyed within 24 hours of approval by federal law. A state permit is required to carry a concealed weapon, but Colorado keeps no list of who has one — that’s up to each sheriff.

Even when considering only “crime guns” — the ones used to kill, shoot or threaten in the course of robberies, carjackings or other crimes — there is no state database that shows whether those guns were bought legally, stolen or obtained through so-called “straw purchases” in which a person who can pass a background check buys it for someone who can’t.

Police and sheriff’s departments are not required to trace the guns they seize, and many of them don’t because they lack the time and resources.

The shortage of information is fallout from years of battle between advocates of stricter gun laws and those protecting the privacy and rights of gun owners. Laws prohibiting a national database of gun transactions and requiring the destruction of background-check records within 24 hours were part of the 2003 Tiahrt Amendment, named after former congressman Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, and supported by the National Rifle Association.

“We have hurt the ability of law enforcement to respond,” said Joseph Vince, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who is a law enforcement consultant at Crime Gun Solutions. “We have hurt ourselves.”

The data deficiency has hindered law enforcement in “connecting the dots” to prevent and solve crime because “the dots have been taken off the paper,” he said.

Registration opposed

The Colorado legislature is considering proposed laws that would require background checks on all gun sales, even those on the Internet; ban concealed weapons on college campuses; and limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds. The House has passed the measures and sent them to the Senate.

None of the bills would require Coloradans to register their firearms with the government; any such proposal would no doubt incite ferocious debate. Supporters of registration say it would make it easier for law enforcement officers to protect the public and trace crime guns, but gun-rights advocates oppose it on right-to-privacy grounds and concern that it could lead to confiscation of weapons. Seven states require registration of some or all types of firearms.

In New York, where handgun permits are required, the super-charged privacy issue flared a week after the December elementary-school shootings in Newtown, Conn. A suburban New York newspaper, the Journal News, published the names, addresses and mapped locations of more than 33,000 handgun-permit holders in two counties. The newspaper was lambasted and its reporters harassed.

Whether a person owns a gun — like other politically unpopular rights — is their own business, gun-rights advocates argue.

“The government has no legitimate right to know who attends a mosque. Or who owns copies of various books. Or who has an abortion,” said David Kopel, a research director for the Independence Institute and a University of Denver law professor. Also, Kopel said, gun- ownership data has been misused in past decades to ruin the reputation of whatever “flavor of the month” the president wants to ban.

Read more:Shortage of hard data on firearms rooted in gun-control debate – The Denver Post
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