Gabrielle Giffords, a former member of the House of Representatives and survivor of a 2011 mass shooting in Tuscon, AZ, attended a gun show with husband, Mark Kelly. Giffords hopes to garner support for voluntary background checks at gun shows. This is opposed to federally mandated background checks that would carry the force of law. Gifford’s efforts are concerned with closing the notorious gun show loophole, a loophole, puzzlingly, some commenters and critics insist does not exist, raising questions to its existence. However, federal government documents illustrate the loophole is real and a serious problem for law enforcement.
The shooting claimed the lives of six people, including a federal judge, one of Gifford’s staff, and a nine year old girl, Christina-Taylor Green. In total nineteen people were shot. Miraculously, Gifford survive a point blank shot to the head by Jared Laughner. Briefly, the media reported her as dead before revising her status to critical condition. Her recovery has been long and difficult. Although the shooting happened in early January 2011, she would not officially resign from the House of Representatives until January 22, 2012, a year and a day after the shooting.
In addition to the Sandy Hook Massacre in Newtown, Conn, the Tuscon, Arizona shooting is one of several incidents that has revived a stagnant debate on gun laws in the United States. Gun control advocates point to these shootings, and others like Columbine, to illustrate fundamental flaws in federal and state regulations. Laughner, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic was ruled mentally incompetent by a judge (therefore unable to stand trial). He purchased his weapon by walking into a licensed Tuscon gun store. “How was a paranoid schizophrenic able to purchase firearms?” gun control advocates asked. The system appears to have severe weaknesses.
REGULATIONS AND LOOPHOLES
When speaking of loopholes it is important to make a clear distinction between the terms “loophole” and “illegal.” A clear, violation of a law, any law is easily defined as illegal. A loophole, however, is different. It represents a systemic flaw, something that should be clearly demarcated as illegal as it undermines the intent of the law. Occasionally, loopholes are intentional, designed to carve out exceptions for a given group for any number of reasons. Sometimes they are unforeseen, merely beyond the scope of the author’s intent. Whether gun show loopholes are intentional is not germane for this article; nevertheless, Giffords’ public presence has brought the issue to the forefront.
Federally licensed firearms dealers are supposed to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which operates with incomplete records. Compounding this issue is the gun show loophole. Federal background checks are not required at gun shows. In addition, minors, like the Columbine shooters, are able to find proxies to purchase guns on their behalf. According to the Department of Justice, “individuals who buy guns from an unlicensed private seller in “secondary market venue” (such as gun shows, flea markets, and Internet sites) are exempt from the requirements of federal law to show identification, complete the Form 4473, and undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Check System check.” In the United States, 40% of all gun sales occur through unlicensed dealers. State law on background checks vary. Some have worked to tighten restrictions, while others have loosened restrictions.
The inconsistency in state regulations may very well be the culprit for why many believe there are no loopholes for gun shows. However, there is clearly a loophole at the federal level. Which begs the question, if background checks are already volunteer, what does Giffords hope to accomplish? Why does she sees this as preferable to a floundering system when mandatory regulations would have actual teeth? Gifford’s view on American gun laws, outside of a respect for the Second Amendment, remain hazy. As the former congressman returns to public life she will articulate a clear, articulate vision for the future of guns in the United States.
Written By David Arroyo