Time For State To Wall Off Major Source Of Illegal Firearms
July 16, 2006
Commentary By LISA LABELLA, and RON PINCIARO
The recent shootings in Hartford have drawn attention to what Mayor Eddie Perez called "the underlying social issues that result in violence," including lack of parental authority, loss of hope by young people, relations between the community and police, and improving services to at-risk kids. All of these issues need to be addressed. But a key question has been ignored: Where do they get the guns?
Gun violence is on the rise not just in our urban communities, but all across the state. In fact, 40 percent of Connecticut communities, including Bantam, Canton, Glastonbury, Monroe, New Milford, Old Saybrook, Southington, Vernon and Westport, have been victimized by gun violence this year.
Make no mistake - people are making money off of this mayhem. Guns start with a legal sale from a licensed dealer. The majority of gun crime is committed by people who cannot legally own guns. That means that guns are flowing freely from legal purchasers to illegal possessors.
How is this happening?
Guns move into the illegal market in many ways. They are sold by corrupt dealers to traffickers or criminals. Guns are sold to "straw purchasers," meaning that people who can legally buy guns purchase them on behalf of people who cannot. Firearms are stolen from legal owners and sold or used illegally. As we saw last week in the sentencing of Robert Dyer of Canton, addicts sometimes sell weapons to their drug dealers.
Thus do traffickers profit at the expense of our families and communities.
What's being done about gun violence? Several urban communities have committed increased resources to arrest and prosecute those who illegally possess or use a gun. Gov. M. Jodi Rell's plan includes the formation of specialized gun courts, along with increased resources for law enforcement and at-risk youth. Social service agencies are renewing their efforts to connect with disenfranchised youth and disrupt gang activities.
These proposals are significant and necessary. But they leave a huge gap: None address the crime of gun trafficking. The most recent data indicates that 49 percent of traced crime guns were legally purchased in Connecticut. As Commissioner of Public Safety Leonard C. Boyle reported, "We're now finding that a lot of the guns that are showing up having been used in violent crimes in the cities were in fact purchased locally."
Unless and until focus and resources are directed toward identifying and stopping the sources of illegal guns, these weapons of destruction will continue to flow unimpeded into our communities. Some necessary steps:
Close loopholes in legislation that allow an unrestricted flow of guns into the illegal market. This includes requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and extending regulations around the sales of handguns to all firearms (more than a third of traced crime guns are rifles and shotguns).
A bill that would have required owners to report lost or stolen weapons within 72 hours passed the Senate this year but was narrowly defeated in the House, where it was strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association. The bill had strong support from a diverse coalition of law enforcement and community groups, and Gov. Rell said she would have signed the bill into law.
Fund the Statewide Firearms Trafficking Task Force and clearly define its role. This task force originated in 2001 with a budget of $386,000; funding is now zero.
Enforce state legislation requiring the tracing of all firearms. Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives indicates that traces dropped 48 percent, even as gun crime increased (from 3,108 traces in 2002 to 1,612 traces in 2003, the last year for which data is available.
Create a statewide repository for tracing data that can be accessed by jurisdictions across Connecticut.
Gun violence is an epidemic that has a cure. With almost half of the guns illegally possessed or used in crimes in Connecticut traced to legal state purchases, part of that cure must be preventing guns that are bought legally from getting into the hands of criminals and other prohibited users.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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