The NRA hampers any attempt to enforce the laws already on the books

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The NRA says we need a national data base of the mentally ill, which infers that only the mentally ill are violent individuals who kill with guns. The NRA wants an ‘active’ mental illness database. Thirty-eight states have that now:

38 states require or authorize the use of certain mental health records for use in a firearm background check, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that tracks state level gun legislation.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits gun sales to individuals who have been committed to a mental institution or 'adjudicated as a mental defective.'" "Reporting on mental health status is incomplete, with a hodgepodge of
state laws that specify what information does, or does not, go into the
federal background check system.

This is a cynical attempt by the NRA to stigmatize the mentally ill as violent and dangerous, to distract from the fact that weapons are dangerous. Gun law debate: Disarming mentally ill won't be easy, experts say:

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be determining who is violent or
has a propensity toward violence. Mental health experts note that
violence and mental illness are not one and the samemost people who
commit violent acts aren't mentally ill
, and the vast majority of people
with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else.

Tighter
gun control restrictions, no matter how well intentioned, might do
nothing more than stigmatize people with conditions like schizophrenia
or bipolar disorder who already are unfairly stereotyped as violent or
frightening, and still miss potential killers who have no record of
mental illness, mental health experts say.

"The question
shouldn't be, 'Do you have a mental illness and have you been treated?'
But, 'Do you have a history of violence, a history of anger?' " said Dr.
John Greene, a forensic psychiatrist who teaches at Stanford
University.

* * *

[M]ental health experts say, the spate of recent shootings underscores the
lack of treatment options and the climate of stigmatization that
prevents many people from getting the care they need.

At the same time, the NRA has suppressed federal research into firearms violence since the mid-1990s.* Ed Kilgore writes at the Political Animal blog, Don’t Let Scientists Get Near Your Guns!:

As Kevin Drum noted
late last week, the theological nature of conservative firearms
idolatry has been outrageously confirmed by Republican congressional
efforts to suppress federally funded research on the real-life
consequences of this or that gun law regime. He and Austin Frakt have drawn attention to a Journal of the American Medical Association article by Arthur Kellermann and Frederick Rivara in response to the Newtown tragedy that should make your blood boil:

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical
and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as
diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun
members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National
Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC)
. Although they failed to defund the center,
the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s
budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury
research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference
committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The
effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research.

To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the
following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the
funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote
gun control.”

Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was
unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career
or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm
injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after
this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to
information about preventing firearm-related violence.

Restrictions on research were later extended from the CDC to all
parts of the Department of Health and Human Services. And similar
efforts have affected other federal and state agencies.

It doesn't stop there. The New York Times reports that the NRA has effectively disabled the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Legal Curbs Said to Hamper A.T.F. in Gun Inquiries:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been without a permanent director for six years, as President Obama recently noted. But even if someone were to be confirmed for the job, the agency’s ability to thwart gun violence is hamstrung by legislative restrictions and by loopholes in federal gun laws, many law enforcement officials and advocates of tighter gun regulations say.

For example, under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a
federal registry of gun transactions.
So while detectives on television
tap a serial number into a computer and instantly identify the buyer of
a firearm, the reality could not be more different.

* * *

In an age when data is often available with a few keystrokes, the A.T.F.
is forced to follow this manual routine because the idea of
establishing a central database of gun transactions has been rejected by
lawmakers in Congress, who have sided with the National Rifle
Association
, which argues that such a database poses a threat to the
Second Amendment.

* * *

Advocates for increased gun regulation, however, contend that in a
country plagued by gun violence, a central registry could help keep
firearms out of the hands of criminals and allow law enforcement
officials to act more effectively to prevent gun crime.

As has been the case for decades, the A.T.F., the federal agency charged
with enforcing gun laws and regulating the gun industry, is caught in
the middle.

Law enforcement officials say that in theory, the A.T.F. could take a
lead role in setting a national agenda for reducing gun crime, a goal
that has gained renewed urgency with the school massacre in Newtown,
Conn. But it is hampered, they say, by politically driven laws that make
its job harder and by the ferocity of the debate over gun regulation.

* * *

The bureau’s struggles are epitomized by its lack of a full-time
director since Congress, prodded by the N.R.A., decided that the
position should require Senate confirmation. That leadership vacuum, Mr.
Bealefeld and others said, has inevitably depleted morale and kept the
agency from developing a coherent agenda.

* * *

In 2010, Mr. Obama nominated Andrew Traver, who is now the head of the
bureau’s Denver division, for the post. But Mr. Traver, whose candidacy
is opposed by the N.R.A., has yet to have a hearing, and his nomination
has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The senior Republican
on the panel, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, has raised questions
about Mr. Traver’s nomination, and his prospects for confirmation looked
so dim that the White House told Democrats on the committee to make
nominations for other posts a higher priority, according to a Senate
Democratic aide.

* * *

The bureau’s tracing center performed 344,447 gun traces in the 2012
fiscal year, but its staffing is no higher than it was in 2004,
according to its chief, Charles Houser. Still, he added, the center
manages to complete urgent traces in about an hour, and routine traces
are done within several days.

* * *

[L]aw enforcement officials and criminal justice
experts who would like the A.T.F. to have greater latitude in fighting
crime say its effectiveness in reducing gun violence is still hampered
by a thicket of laws that limit the information it can obtain and
constrain its day-to-day functioning.

The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, for example, prohibits A.T.F.
agents from making more than one unannounced inspection per year of
licensed gun dealers. The law also reduced the falsification of records
by dealers to a misdemeanor and put in place vague language defining
what it meant to “engage in business” without a dealer’s license.

Both provisions, said William J. Vizzard, an emeritus professor of
criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, and a
former A.T.F. special agent, made it more difficult for the bureau to go
after gun sellers who broke the law.

The so-called Tiahrt amendments — named for Todd Tiahrt, a former
Republican congressman from Kansas, and first attached as riders to
appropriations bills in 2003 and 2004 — limited the A.T.F.’s ability to
share tracing information on firearms linked to crimes with local and
state law enforcement agencies and with the public. Those restrictions
have been loosened in subsequent versions of the amendments.

But under
the most recent Tiahrt amendment, adopted in 2010, the A.T.F. still
cannot release anything but aggregate data to the public. The amendment
still prohibits the bureau from using tracing data in some legal
proceedings to suspend or revoke a dealer’s license, and it requires
that records of background checks of gun buyers be destroyed within 24
hours of approval. Advocates of tighter regulation say this makes it
harder to identify dealers who falsify records or buyers who make
“straw” purchases for others.

Congress has long resisted the idea of a central transaction database. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the pillar of U.S.
gun control regulation that collects reports of people prohibited from
buying gun, is fundamentally flawed. Gun law debate: Disarming mentally ill won't be easy, experts say:

Most people in the database are convicted criminals, but about 7 percent are banned because of mental illness.

But
the database has two fundamental flaws. First, it applies to only the
40 percent of guns sold through licensed dealers, who must do background
checks. And second, the registry is incomplete, especially regarding
records of people who have a severe mental illness. The criteria for
listing have never been clear, and vary widely from state to state,
mental health legal experts say. The database can't identify people who
have never been diagnosed with a mental illness or who are at risk of
becoming violent.

Former ATF Special Agent William Vizzard discusses how the NRA hampers any attempt by the ATF to enforce the laws already on the books in this segment of The Last Word.

* See also: Gary Cutting at the New York Times Opinionator blog, The N.R.A.'s Blockade on Science. "There is no current scientific consensus about guns and violence. 

The
most thorough and authoritative analysis is the 2004 report by a panel
of leading experts, “Firearms and Violence,”
sponsored by the National Research Council. Its startling conclusion
was that we simply don’t know enough to make scientifically grounded
judgments about which approaches — from gun-control measures to
permission-to-carry laws — are likely to work."

In the years since the 2004 report, research on firearms has, despite the panel’s recommendation, significantly decreased.

* * *

[T]he N.R.A. has blocked most efforts at serious gun research, going so
far as to restrict access to the highly informative data available from
Justice Department traces of guns used in crimes.  As The Times
reported, “Scientists in the field and former officials with the
government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research
say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked
off money for such work.”

As a result, things still stand pretty much as they were in 2004. 
There is no scientific consensus on the best approach to limiting gun
violence, and the N.R.A. is blocking work that might well lead to such a
consensus.

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