We start with the fact that all sales from Federally licensed retailers are 100% background checked by the FBI or State police, regardless of where they occur. So these sales are being made to law abiding American citizens who are buying firearms for lawful purposes such as target shooting, hunting, collecting, and personal protection. They are not criminals. Recent studies show that sales from retailers make up a statistically insignificant source of guns misused in crime.
Criminals in large measure get their guns from other criminals, in underground transactions far removed in time and space from the licensed retailer. So what can and is the industry doing to help minimize such rare but illegal sales?
First, we have long urged that the 20,000+ gun laws in this country be taken seriously and enforced. It is beyond us why, for example, a person who is denied a retail sale because the instant point-of-sale background check indicates he has an outstanding felony warrant is not immediately arrested – for we know that the vast majority of violent crime is caused by a tiny number of repeat offenders.
Next, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) itself is incomplete, due to the pretty awful record of some states in failing to enter all disqualifying records, including involuntary mental health commitments mandated under current law. Our FixNICS initiative, which the industry undertook on its own, has resulted in 16 states finally following what should have been legally mandated for over 20 years and entering appropriate mental health and other disqualifying records into the Federal background check system.
Now, some felons or other disqualified persons attempt to get around the retail background check by getting a qualified “straw purchaser” to make the purchase for them. In cooperation with the ATF, in 2000, the firearms industry initiated its “Don’t Lie for The Other Guy” program, reminding would-be straw purchasers that if they buy a gun for someone who can’t legally purchase a firearm it is serious crime and they can go to jail for 10 years and face a $250,000 fine. The program also helps ATF to raise awareness among licensed retailers so they are better able to spot illegal straw purchasers. And yet, prosecutions for doing this are rare. Let’s get serious about this. Gun trafficking is already a Federal felony – let’s enforce the law!
And what about the firearms already in the hands of consumers? Well, for decades, the industry has been providing over 70 million appropriate locking devices and safe storage instructions with new firearms.
In conjunction with the previous and current Administrations, the NSSF’s “Project ChildSafe” has delivered over 37 million firearm safety kits including a free gun lock for existing firearms to over 15,000 communities nationwide, in a joint effort with law enforcement. And our “Own it? Respect it. Secure it.” initiative has over 1,400 industry partners. Safe storage of firearms when not in use is the number one way to deny their access to children, unauthorized persons, burglars, and other at-risk individuals.
Suicides, which gun control advocates use to falsely inflate the numbers of “gun violence,” actually constitute two-thirds of all firearms fatalities, twice the number of gun homicides annually. We haven’t neglected this, working closely with the Veteran’s Administration to provide locks and safe storage information to returning veterans, and we’ve been in contact with suicide prevention groups to help stop this most common type of firearms abuse. As you can imagine, this is a most difficult task.
So, far from doing nothing, the firearms industry has been voluntarily taking many effective measures to help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. We urge that this nation resolve to apply renewed efforts to enforce the laws to both keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and vigorously prosecute those few who attempt to purchase guns illegally, or who circumvent the law and traffic in illegal firearms, and get the states to input appropriate mental health records into the NICS system.
We can’t do it alone. But as a responsible industry we most certainly have been part of the solution – which is why violent crime, despite perceptions and fear, and with greatly increased firearms sales and population growth, has dropped 60% in the last 20 years, and firearms accidents have dropped dramatically to a century low of less than 1% of all fatal accidents. As our industry’s Project ChildSafe tagline states: “Own it? Respect it. Secure it.”