Answering some reader e-mails on gun control

Having done a ton of reporting on gun control in the past month, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of mail I get from readers – some thoughtful and constructive, but mostly angry rants.

So where better to address some of it than here?

First, let me dispel a few myths. Many people have angrily urged me to “get my facts straight” and stop reporting that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. The fact is: It’s true.

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip from NBC’s Today show which reported that Lanza had taken four handguns into the school but left the rifle in his car. That video is wrong; it was based on unnamed sources and aired Dec. 15, the day after the shooting, before authorities had briefed the media on what weapons were actually used. The correct information was released later that day. But this video clip has been reposted so many times since – with or without the knowledge that it’s dead wrong – that Connecticut State Police felt compelled to re-issue the correct information a few weeks ago.

Also, a few people have e-mailed me suggesting that Lanza, or Lanza alone, wasn’t responsible for the shooting. I’ve seen no credible evidence anywhere to suggest otherwise, and I have no patience for unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Now, on to some specifics. In response to my article in today’s editions about background checks, one reader noted that I “failed to mention that the government only prosecutes a small fraction of the people denied firearm purchases because of background checks. …We need to enforce the laws we have already.”

Actually, it’s not a federal crime for your background check to result in a denial – it’s a federal crime to lie about the information you submit for the background check, and Vice President Joe Biden did say the government lacks resources to go after those who do, even though it’s punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.

I agree that more efforts to punish those who are caught lying would be great, and that’s a very good topic for a future story; this story, however, was first and foremost about background checks keeping guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them. If they were caught lying, they didn’t get the guns and so the system worked at least that much.

I’ll dissect one of the more radical rants I’ve received, after the jump….

Here’s one of my very favorite reader e-mails, also in response to today’s article, from Gary B—-, 70, of El Cerrito:

You could be the poster boy for hoplophobia. I believe this leads you to being such an anti-gun radical. Your statement in the WCT times article on Thursday where you state “background checks have stopped about a dozen felons, mentally ill people and others from buying guns.” I find this premise typical of you and the left when attempting to make a questionable static into a major case for additional anti-gun laws.

Over time I have discovered that your writing is politically liberal and you would do anything to support Democrat politicians. Too bad you did not get the memo that nearly every one of the mass shootings was conducted by liberals or democrats who had a bone to pick with somebody or something. I could simply propose that we simply ban guns from democrats and liberals and the country would be a whole lot safer. How come the highest crime rates exist in areas where liberals and democrats run everything? Just a coincidence? NOT!

I hope you enjoy being a member of the equivalent of a Pravda and Izvestia media that flourished in the Soviet Union!

First of all… the Soviet Union? Really? It’s 2013, Gary. If you’re going to call me a communist, at least call me a Cuban or something a little more timely.

Second, background checks HAVE stopped an average of about a dozen felons, mentally ill people and others from buying guns each day under California’s law from 1991 through 2011. That’s 93,632 denials divided by 21 years divided by 365 days, for 12.2 denials per day.

Third, Gary says “nearly every one of the mass shootings was conducted by liberals or democrats who had a bone to pick with somebody or something.”

Huh? Maybe he’s talking about the Breitbart report that Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre gunman James Holmes was a Democrat – later amended to say he’s not even registered to vote. (If you base all your arguments on Breitbart, you deserve what you get, although at least they corrected this report.) As for Adam Lanza, he was raised by Republicans just like Gary from El Cerrito. And I’m not aware anyone has determined a political motive for Jared Lee Loughner’s attempt to assassinate Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords – not that it would make any difference in any of these cases or most others. The common thread is that all three had documented mental health issues and never should’ve been allowed to pick up a gun.

Fourth, Gary says, “How come the highest crime rates exist in areas where liberals and democrats run everything? Just a coincidence? NOT!”

NOT true, actually. Take Louisiana, for example: Republicans hold the governor’s office, both houses of the state legislature, five of six House seats and one of two U.S. Senate seats, yet the state in 2011 had the second-highest firearm murder rate in the nation and from 1999-2010 had the second highest rate of firearms deaths (including accidents, suicides, homicides and unknown intent).

Furthermore, a key point of our national debate is that state laws can accomplish little when other states remain lax. And a 2008 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, based on ATF trace data, found that “on the basis of population, ten states – West Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina – supply interstate crime guns at a rate two and a half times the national average.” Those don’t look like reliably blue states to me.

So feel free to write to me again when you have some idea what you’re talking about, Gary. But if it’s going to be another baseless rant, save it for someone more gullible.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Patrick McNamara

    I probably won’t make your Rant of the Week file, but I thought I would address a real concern of those who seem to gun control advocates to be paranoid gun nuts, or other similar pejorative, and that is gun registration that leads to eventual confiscation. It makes no difference that current gun control bills or laws do not advocate that, because it is never far fetched that generational crusades for social change freely acknowledge a forward looking incremental strategy.

    The reasoning goes, that there is no practical use for a registry of all weapons detailing where they are located and by whom they are owned, other than to enable a future confiscation policy to be done by remote notification. That is, the gun owners receive a letter saying they have two weeks to bring guns X,Y,and Z to the local collection letter or they will be subject to arrest. Alternatively, it is the prospect of door to door search throughout the nation that makes confiscation impractical to accomplish in a nation that has a 4th amendment and presumably still governs via the consent of the governed.

    The focus of this concern by gun rights advocates and 2nd amendment purists in the most recent outbreak of heated policy debate is the background check, universal or otherwise. Nobody wants guns sold to felons, insanely jealous ex-souses with restraining orders, mentally unstable persons or other deniable types to buy a firearm. But there is no reason to involve the gun itself in this process. We are not doing a background check on the new or used gun, only the prospective buyer. The buyer is either eligible to purchase firearms or he is not.

    Why can’t a gun buyer registry be created instead? Those wishing to buy firearms are pre-screened at greater length than the current overworked 10-day system, then issued a biometric ID card similar to the TWIC cards issued by DHS to anyone who works at a marine terminal, refinery or airport, following a thorough FBI background check. The TWIC card costs about $125 for the admin and is good for 5 years. A firearms card could be renewed more frequently, and also remotely flagged should its holder become ineligible by one of the designated ways one can be denied a firearm. Subsequently, any attempted gun purchase would be thwarted.

    Gun dealers could still be required to hold any new purchase for a “cooling off” period, such that anyone planning that Montana Elk hunt should plan ahead for that new rifle purchase to account for the waiting period (and sight-in, of course).

    Squeezing out a national gun registry that can be used for real or imagined future confiscations or mandatory turn-ins or buy-backs is toothpaste that could never be put back in the tube. That is why gun rights advocates are vigilantly against it in all its forms, even when it comes in the form of “universal background checks.” If gun control advocates truly and honestly want only to make background checks more thorough and effective, then it behooves them to conjure a way to do so without creating a national gun registry. Failing that will forever fail the smell test.

    Achieving it, however, would be a giant conciliatory step forward toward less tragedy and more unity. Imagine.

  • JohnW

    I love the one about how we’re not enforcing the laws (supposedly 26,000 of them) already on the books. But nobody ever gives an example.

    It’s a good point about how states with strong regulations are affected by states that are more lax. Gun rights activists point to Chicago as the poster child for a city with the toughest restrictions in the country but one of the highest gun homicide rates. The NYT ran a good story on that, pointing out how easy it is to drive to Indiana or Wisconsin to buy a gun and bring it back. Many or most of the illegal weapons used on the street in the Bay Area were “legally” purchased by straw buyers in Arizona or Texas before ending up being sold out of a car trunk in Oakland.

    Also, the NRA has been pushing for federal legislation that would nullify state concealed carry restrictions by requiring a state with “may issue” laws to honor a permit obtained in a “must issue” state.

  • JohnW

    Another excellent article by Josh. I love the coverage that BANG (how appropriate) and Josh are giving this topic.

    Eric Swalwell had an hour-long interview and caller Q&A on KGO radio this morning. He commented on a wide range of topics and did an excellent job. On guns, he gave one of the few answers I have heard about how the AR15 type weapon is different than other semi-automatics. It has more than double the muzzle velocity of a Glock, and at least 8 times the effective range. He gave an example of a murder case he prosecuted. The killer used an AR15, fired 40 rounds but only hit the victim once. Obviously a terrible shot. He hit the victim in the thigh, which normally would not be anything close to a mortal wound. But because of the velocity, it did so much damage that the person died. Of course, ammo type would be a factor too.

    I don’t profess to be an expert, so anybody reading this — feel free to dispute what I just said.

  • Elwood

    From Wikipedia:

    AR15 3200 fps

    Glock 9mm 1230fps

    Rifle vs. pistol

    Your results may vary.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Josh, this is the funniest story I’ve read in a long time.
    Background checks might keep mentally ill people from a messy suicide with a hand gun.
    I have no idea where anyone gets the idea guns sold out of car trunks, are from out of state. I always assumed the guns sold from car trunks were stolen by burglars, since the only time I witnessed someone pulling a gun out of a car trunk to show off, it was in front of a house full of burglars.
    Ridiculous comments are coming from both sides of the fence.

  • JohnW

    Re: #5

    You’re taking “out of car trunks” too literally. The issue is gun-running, not the container from where the guns are sold to bad guys.

    Stolen guns may be part of the mix, but that’s the “low brow” hard way to illegally get your hands on a gun. The trafficking corridors that feed into NY, Chicago, West Coast etc. from states with few restrictions are well-known to law enforcement. But there are NRA-instigated restrictions on how data gathered from gun crime tracing can be used and shared among agencies and jurisdictions. That makes it impossible to shut down these networks.

    You would think the NRA would be all for “law and order” and doing everything possible to shut down gun trafficking networks. That is until you realize that the NRA is really the marketing arm for the gun and ammo manufacturers. They just want the sales volume and couldn’t care less about who gets the guns and how they use them. The pathetic truth is that gun violence just amps up demand. It’s good for business. And the gun industry saw to it that they were given immunity from civil liability for what happens with the stuff they sell. Nice business model.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    After our” Made in China” Christmas, people are getting on the case of the NRA for supporting the weapons/ammunition industry. One of the few industries dominated by the U.S. Europe & Israel.
    Could someone give me a clue about who supports the weapons/ammunition industry more than the U.S. Government?
    The most ridiculous statement coming from the N.R.A. is having school teachers carry weapons to class. I always thought the N.R.A. was concerned about gun safety training. That was before politicians who carry guns themselves, get in front of the news cameras & spout off ridiculous ideas about gun control, every time some person wanting media attention, goes on a rampage using guns.
    Why does the media carry on forever, with pictures of the shooter?

  • jdberger

    The proposition that it’s guns flowing into cities like Oakland and Chicago that are driving the crime is hysterical. Somehow these guns only cause crime in the big urban centers, but not in the surrounding communities? Oakland had 200 murders last year but Alameda had none. Funny, that.

    For examples of gun laws not prosecuted, the most common is “felon in possession of a firearm” which is a federal crime (10 years). Prosecutors will often offer to drop the federal charge in order to get the accused to plea out. Of course, it’s easy for them to do this because federal prosecutors often claim that they’re too busy to prosecute low level cases. In cities that make federal gun prosecutions a priority (see Project Exile), gun crimes fall rapidly.

    Finally, the AR-15 isn’t “different from other semi-automatics”. It’s simply a rifle. Rifles fire bullets at higher velocities than handguns. That .223 round fired by an AR-15 moves just as fast as if it was fired from a single-shot target rifle, a semi-auto like a Mini-14, or a bolt gun. Comparing an AR-15 to a handgun is like comparing a skateboard to car. Different designs, different capabilities.

  • JohnW

    Re: #8 Jdberger

    Guns exponentially escalate the violence and the damage, both direct and collateral. Obviously the urban centers are more prone to street crime and gang violence to begin with. But the guns (I would guess virtually all of them stolen or trafficked) are what turn things into a war zone. If gang bangers didn’t have guns and used knives or bows and arrows instead, you would have West Side Story. You wouldn’t have five year old girls getting killed in the cross-fire, kids sleeping in bathtubs, mothers afraid to let their kids outside the house etc.

    Good point about the prosecutions for felony possession. But to paraphrase Wayne LaPierre, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is to shut down the trafficking that enables him to get a gun in the first place. To do that, you need to be able to trace every gun used in a crime back to the last person who legally obtained the gun and make them an accessory to the crime.

    You’re absolutely correct in saying that comparing an AR-15 and other military style weapons to handguns is like comparing skateboards and cars. That was my point. Those opposed to restoring the ban on so-called “assault rifles” have been spinning the yarn that there is nothing special about the AR-15 except for its scary cosmetics. It’s them, not me, who like to leave the impression that a semi-automatic is a semi-automatic, whether it’s a rifle or a handgun.

    Since Connecticut, CNN’s Piers Morgan has turned his nightly show into a gun control advocacy show. I understand that many people don’t like his views on the subject. But Monday night’s show was special. He did the show from a Texas shooting range, where the owners did an excellent job explaining the various guns to him and let him fire everything from the AR15 to a real, specially licensed military machine gun. He also interviewed pro-gun Texas lawmakers and Ted Nugent. Even though he has a brother in the British army in Afghanistan, Piers is a complete novice with guns. But once he got the hang of it, he was able to get off 60 rounds per minute and do it with accuracy. I understand that Texans like to use the AR-15 to shoot wild pigs from helicopters. But watching what a novice like Piers Morgan was able to do with the AR-15 was scary. Both the pigs and I would love to see these banned again.

  • Elwood

    ” you need to be able to trace every gun used in a crime back to the last person who legally obtained the gun and make them an accessory to the crime.”

    John, you’re living in fantasy land.

    Either that or you’re hankering for a fascist state.

    “there is nothing special about the AR-15 except for its scary cosmetics. It’s them, not me, who like to leave the impression that a semi-automatic is a semi-automatic, whether it’s a rifle or a handgun.”

    Both statements are true. We’ve been over this ground before. An AR15 is not an assault rifle. It is simply a rifle that some people, for reasons best known only to themselves, find “scary looking” And semi-automatic refers to the manner in which the weapon fires, not how hard it hits.

    It mystifies me why some people can’t understand simple facts.

    As for Piers Morgan, the sooner that smarmy Brit bastard goes home the better. No wonder no one watches him.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Elwood is the clear winner of this debate. Johnny’s idea to fill the prisons, A.K.A. crime colleges, with anybody who ever owned a firearm, is bad.
    This debate made me look up homicide & other crime rates, nationally & worldwide. I also looked up assault rifles. The AK 47, or Kalashnikov, is the world’s favorite.
    Bad ideas from politicians pop up daily. Now they want to force legal gun owners to buy insurance. In Lafayette, it’s illegal to use any weapon. It’s a bit ridiculous to have to insure something we can’t use.

  • JohnW

    Re: 10

    Fantasy land! Fascist state! Seriously? Are you saying that giving law enforcement the authority and resources to trace guns used in crimes back to the straw buyer death merchants who “legally” buy the guns and illegally sell them to street gangs is somehow usurping the Constitution? Law enforcement does that all the time with motor vehicles involved in crimes.

    Last I looked, there had been about 1,300 gun homicides since Sandy Hook. Ah, the price of liberty, I reckon. Unless, of course you’re Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl who performed during Obama’s inauguration and was later gunned down while speaking with friends in a Chicago park just one mile from Obama’s house. Where the hell is her “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?”

  • Elwood

    Yes, seriously, John. What you are proposing will never happen in this country unless martial law is declared and house to house searches initiated.

    Approximately 40,000 people are killed annually in auto accidents in this country.

    Perhaps we should outlaw automobiles?

    500 people were murdered in Chicago last year. Unfortunately for Ms. Pendleton she was in the wrong place at the wrong time (Chicago, any time).

  • Alcoahead

    @13 —

    Let me interpret what is being said here by Elwood:

    The 2nd Amendment guarantees that “my right to own (and use, aka bear) arms (of any kind, even machine guns, bazookas, shoulder-fired stingers, etc.) for whatever hoots and grins it gives me supercedes your right to life, liberty and/or the pursuit of happiness.”

    Got it right, Elwood?

    Just as the 1st Amendment guarantees that “my right to stand up in a crowded theater and shout ‘Fire!’ for whatever hoots and grins it gives me supercedes your right to life, liberty and/or the pursuit of happiness.” Right, Elwood?

    There are no reasonable restrictions whatsoever that can be placed on any of the Amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. Right, Elwood?

    Do I have that right, Elwood?

    Please let me know in your usual superior fashion if and how I have failed.

  • JohnW

    Re: 13

    “Perhaps we should outlaw automobiles…”

    I think you’re yanking my chain, Elwood. You can’t possibly be in favor of the status quo regarding gun trafficking.

    We don’t outlaw automobiles, but we do keep track of them. Nothing in the Constitution prevents us from doing the same with guns. Only NRA-sponsored laws currently on the books do that.

    My argument in #12 had nothing to do with outlawing guns, even though I am in favor of at least requiring special licenses for civilian possession of certain types of guns.

    I was arguing in favor of cracking down on gun trafficking, and giving law enforcement the tools they need to track down the traffickers and hold them accountable for the crimes that are committed with the guns they sell.

    You say what I am proposing will never happen in this country unless martial law is declared. Hmmm. New York just passed a law that includes provisions dealing with gun trafficking. There is also a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House to do the same. It will probably be blocked in the House Judiciary Committee and by the Republican House leadership. But a bipartisan proposal on anything is a remarkable thing in the House these days.


  • Elwood

    @ 14

    You’ve been ingesting mind altering substances again haven’t you?

  • Elwood

    @ 15 John W

    Suppose someone steals your guns in spite of your best efforts to secure them and then uses them in the commission of a crime. Under your proposal you just became an accessory to a crime. Congratulations!

    ” New York just passed a law that includes provisions dealing with gun trafficking.” Well whoop dee doo! That’ll make everything all better I’m sure. Criminals will be sure to follow the new laws. New York has had some of the toughest gun laws in the country for years with decidedly mixed results. Crime is down in NYC because of stop and frisk which gets the panties of the American Communist Lunatic Union in a major twist.

  • Alcoahead

    @16 —

    There we go again, don’t we, Elwood?

    Nothing to say (or that our brain can construct) that can in any way rebut good logic, so we resort to ad hominen attacks – i.e., when we lack the cranial wattage to attack the message, we immediately and slanderously attack the messenger.

    I feel sorry for your spouse and children — if by some misfortune there IS a spouse and children — they must suffer mightily every evening at the dinner table once the cumulative drinks kick in.

    P.S. to Josh (the Ref) Richman — he (Elwood) started this round of “personal” (aka “not a reference at all to what is or was being said, but merely slander on one’s personal character with innuendo about drug ingestion habits”) attacks with his uncalled-for personal hit at @16, so if you want this kind of personal attack to stop, you know just who to really restrict, that is, if you dare take a hit on the ratings for this blog.

  • Josh Richman

    @16 & 18: Cool your jets, both of you. Elwood was out of line, Alcohead’s protests ring hollow considering his record. My “ratings” – what the hell is this, Nielsen? – have nothing to do with either of you. And I have better things to do with my evening than throw a flag every time you two dipsticks decide to indulge your inner 12-year-olds.

  • Alcoahead

    @19 —

    Sorry, Josh, but your protests also ring hollow:

    “…I have better things to do with my evening than throw a flag…” — and yet you DID, as just witnessed by all.

    Ratings apparently DO matter to you — and my reference to “dare take a hit on the ratings on this blog” was apparently enough to make you stop whatever you were involved with, to immediately render an appearance on yonder blog.

    God forbid I effectively attack the greatest source of your ratings on this blog — Elwood.

    You must know that I can create new aliases ad nauseam so as to continue to speak truth to your power before you cut off access to your sacred blog by any arbitrary “nom-de-plume” — so sooner or later you have to face the music I will keep playing here.

    Face the facts, Josh — you (and BANG) are more and more, with each passing day, merely an ever-more ad-bloated “provider of infotainment” than a “purveyor of journalism” as electronic pixelation takes over what Gutenberg started with papyrus and vegetable stains…and I shed not a tear, “dipstick” though I might be to the likes of you.

    Blog ratings? In this Facebook-frenzied, hyper-mobilized, latte-per-second, immediate-gratification world? Blog ratings are increasingly the only thing that keeps you able to make your mortgage payment, pal — and we BOTH know THAT.

    $100 says you won’t allow this critical (to you) comment to live on your blog for even a mere 24 hours — and I’m a person of my word so if it does, expect a Benjamin in an envelope to be mailed to your office.

  • Josh Richman

    Alcoahead, you may have changed your name, but you’re still an ass.

    I do have better things to be doing – household chores, reading a book, staring off into space – than policing you; had I wanted to referee infantile tantrums, I’d have become a preschool teacher. Instead, I became a journalist, and so it is part of my job to maintain a civil atmosphere here.

    You clearly know nothing about our business model, of which this blog is only the tiniest part, or about blogs in general. If I were all about page hits, I’d abandon this blog in a flat second and concentrate only on stories. I’ve fought to keep this blog up because I think it’s important for people to have a serious exchange of ideas.

    There is nothing I’d like more than for people like you to just go the hell away and let the adults talk, but I try to err on the side of letting people have their say whenever possible. Your “truth to power” is pathetic, yet I’m leaving your post here as a laugh and lesson for everyone else. (Feel free to contact me offline to get the address to which you can mail that c-note, big talker.)

    All I’ve seen from you is juvenile insults to other commenters, not to our “infotainment.” But if you don’t like our coverage then tell us why, specifically, without bull—- insults – or just GO AWAY.

    Sock puppet if you must, but I’ll delete your posts ad infinitum, and/or just block your entire IP address. Here endeth the lesson; this comment thread is now closed.