While the Governor’s Commission has recommended some interesting and useful actions regarding; information sharing, threat assessment teams, lockdown drills and security upgrades for facilities, the two actions related to firearms are not particularly impressive. Both bills, that have arisen from the Commission, are simply reactive and would do little to prevent a potential attacker from obtaining the weapons needed to carry out a school attack. Both bills rely on the unproven deterrence of increased sentencing, which would only come into effect AFTER an attack was completed. Once an armed individual with evil intentions sets foot in a location, determined to carry out a suicidal attack, the best that anyone can hope for is to minimize casualties, not avoid them altogether. Clearly the reaction to other legislation, that has already been defeated this session, show that there is a complete disdain by the Republican led administration for taking any proactive measures designed to prevent an ineligible or otherwise dangerous person from obtaining firearms.
Looking at the bills individually:
SB 1377 Stewart: Increases the penalty for bringing firearms or explosives onto school property, with the “intent” of using them in a felony.
SB 1378 Garrett: Increases the penalty for straw purchasing a firearm, both for the straw purchaser and the actual ineligible buyer.
Violent individuals that are already barred from owning firearms obtain those weapons from 3 main sources:
1. Purchase from unlicensed sellers in transactions that are totally anonymous and require no background check. Several efforts to change that were defeated.
2. Theft from gun owners who do not properly secure their weapons, either directly by the individual or through a black market sale from the original thieves. It is hard to deter theft by legislation, but requiring gun owners to take measures to better secure their weapons and creating some form of liability for negligence would help. A bill that would have done that was defeated.
3. Straw purchase by individuals with clean backgrounds on behalf of ineligible buyers. This is very difficult to spot and to prosecute due to several inadequacies in the law. First it is too easy for the buyer to simply claim that a firearm traced back to them from a crime scene was “lost or stolen” from them at some point. Requiring lost/stolen firearms reporting would take away that excuse and make straw purchasing much more risky. A bill requiring that was defeated. Currently a person can buy a firearm from a dealer and then legally sell that weapon to anyone without any regard to that person’s eligibility to own a firearm. In order to prosecute for straw purchasing it would be necessary to observe the purchase and to prove that the individuals involved had prior knowledge that the subsequent transfer was illegal. The straw buyer would still be able to claim that they purchased the weapon in good faith, but then decided to sell it as they “changed their mind” or “didn’t like the feel of the weapon” etc. It could also be difficult to prove without doubt that the straw buyer was aware that the person to whom they subsequently transferred the weapon was ineligible to own it. Simply increasing the penalty for such an action does nothing to make that activity easier to detect or less likely to occur.
It used to be said that “an ounce of prevention was better than a pound of cure”, however these two bills SB 1377 and SB 1378 seem to concentrate on just “an ounce of cure”.