Gun debate heats up

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A fine line > Arguments on both sides pose quandry for legislators; 2nd of a series

By Tris DeRoma

Second of a two-part series

Though the various forms of legislation mentioned in the last article remain in the committee stage, Mark Covell is not so sure the “gun show” bill put forth by Rep. Miguel Garcia, (D-Bernalillo) will be effective, even if the state does decide to establish a background check hotline.

“I know some states are talking about now having mandatory background checks on all weapons whether it’s through a dealer or an individual,” Covell said. “How are you going to make that work? If you go down to your local department of motor vehicles office, you begin to have your doubts about the state running any kind of program.”

He quoted a passage in the legislation he’s particularly concerned about.

“‘Our legislation will require background checks for the mentally and criminally adjudicated at Gun Shows in New Mexico, and for a private individual purchases.”

“If you buy a gun at a gun show through a dealer whether you are mentally or criminally anything, everybody goes through a NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) check at a gun show,” Covell said. “If you buy a gun from an individual at a gun show then you will have to answer the same questions required by the Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and explosives. This type of wording in the bill leads people to believe that they don’t have to go through a background check, and that’s not true. If I’m a dealer at a gun show, you (the buyer) still have to go through the same background check you would if you bought it in my shop.”

NICS is a program that’s run through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Covell said this system has worked just fine.

Jokes about the DMV aside, he said he’s truly worried if New Mexico tried to start its own version of NICS when it comes to “individual” or “private” gun sales, sales that do not require any sort of background check at all.

“When you call into the NICS program, you instantly get denied, approved or delayed,” he said. “The answer comes back relatively quickly while you’re on the phone with them. I don’t see how the New Mexico Department of Public Safety is going to handle the number of calls it will get.”

An employee at an Albuquerque firearms dealer also thought the state government getting involved in background checks for private sales just doesn’t make sense. The employee said the state might as well get involved in checking the backgrounds of people who buy furniture or groceries.

“It’s their property,” she said. “If they are going to do that, then they are going to have to do that with cars, with furniture, with everything. It’s your own private property.”

She said there’s no need, saying most law-abiding citizens who sell guns to each other agree to come up with some sort of notarized paperwork and documentation that creates a paper trail for the gun. It protects them just in case the gun is stolen and later used in a crime.

“I tell individual sellers to get some kind of a document. Both of you sign it and if possible, get it notarized. Indicate on the form that you’re buying the gun from such-and-such, include the serial number and the date, everything. That way, if anything happens or somebody uses that gun you just sold in a crime, you can say this is the date that I sold it to him.”

When buying from a gun dealer, however, there’s usually two forms to fill out; the Brady Form, which is a questionnaire from the U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives designed to probe deeply into a person’s personal background. One copy stays with the dealer for 20 years before being sent off to the US ATFE. The other form is the NICS form, which also contains questions about mental health. But while the ATF and the FBI know who’s buying a gun, the only time the state gets involved with federally-licensed gun dealers is when a customer buys more than one firearm.

“The only thing we let the state know is if an individual has bought more than two firearms,” she said. “We do that by reporting it on a multiple sales form and sending a copy to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.”

Though there are questions about mental health on the federal forms, the gun store employee said there’s no way they can tell themselves if the customer is lying or not, they have to rely on the federal agencies catching falsehoods through other information the customer provides, such as a social security number and birth place.

“Mental health is a major issue right now and that’s what they (the legislators) should focus on instead of the other stuff,” she said. “Mental Health is the biggest issue right now. I think that if someone reports that someone has had some issues or had to take some medicine for their mental illness that should be reported.”

Steven Rivera, vice president the Los Alamos Sportsman Club, said personal responsibility is key, or should be key to preventing tragedies like the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings.

“In the case of that kid getting a hold of his mom’s guns (Sandy Hook) that’s really on us,” he said. “The mom knew she had a problem child, yet he had stuff available to get. That’s the kind of behavior we need to control.”

Rivera also said legislation banning semiautomatic weapons and limiting the number of rounds in a magazine, a key piece of legislation in New York’s recent gun bill, won’t help either.

“Just because they’re semi-auto doesn’t mean a guy can’t run a bolt action just as fast,” Rivera said. “I run shooting teams and we once had guys that could reload a revolver faster than you could load a semi-auto. It’s all in the hands of a trained individual. You limit someone to a six-round magazine they are just going to bring more of them.” Rivera also noted that one of the recent shootings was done with a shotgun.

“Are we going to ban shotguns too?”

Gun dealers and enthusiasts aren’t the only ones to feel this way about personal responsibility. Phil Taylor, the emergency management coordinator for Los Alamos County, also feels that communities need to work together to identify people in their communities that may be on the verge of committing such an act.

While the “active shooter” event he organized went according to plan, he said when all is said and done, emergency services are just purely a reactionary solution.

“The schools ought to be ground zero for developing the path forward on this. It has to be multidisciplinary, there has to be multiple stakeholders in this, response agencies as well as people who are expert in identifying the early risk factors.” Taylor said. “What are the key questions we ought to be asking? Is there a common profile to all these shooters? How many crazy people care about gun control? Gun control is only going to prohibit law abiding gun owners from acquiring guns.”