It has been widely held that the United States possesses over 20,000 gun laws, leaving many questioning why we don’t enforce our current gun laws as members of Congress and the Obama administration grapple over new legislation.
The simple answer: we don’t have 20,000 gun laws, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — the very agency tasked with policing the firearm industry — is understaffed and underfunded.
The Brookings Institute debunked this gun myth over a decade ago, concluding that the U.S. possesses “about 300 major state and federal laws, and an unknown, but shrinking, number of local laws,” relating directly to the control of the manufacture, design, sale, purchase and possession of guns.
It also concluded that even if interrelated subparts of laws were treated as separate laws, the actual number of gun laws in the U.S. would still remain substantially lower than the 20,000-law myth purports.
Although there are actually fewer gun laws than people believe there are, we still confront the problem of having no means of efficiently enforcing the laws we do have. The solution does not require new legislation, but rather making sure the current regulatory apparatus can effectively enforce the laws already in place.
Gun lobbyists and legislatures have targeted the ATF for years, and the end result has been nothing short of destructive.
The ATF operates with roughly a $1.4 billion budget and possesses only 2,500 agents, fewer than it possessed four decades ago, according to The Washington Post.
The agency also lacks a full-time acting director, as the Senate has blocked both former-President Bush’s and President Obama’s nominations to the position. The current interim acting director, B. Todd Jones, a U.S. attorney from Minnesota, is only working part-time at the agency.
Of its agents, the bureau has only about 600 inspectors to police over 115,000 firearm dealers. In 2009, it was reported that the ATF managed to only inspect roughly 11,000 of those gun dealers.
Current legislation has constricted the agency, favoring reckless gun practices and lobbyist groups. The NRA has long lobbied against a computerized database of gun sales as well as any kind of national registry, according to The Washington Post.
Due to this, the ATF must go through a laborious system to trace guns, by hand, back to the original store that sold them. The Tiahrt Amendment, which was reviewed by the NRA, also hid the public record government database for tracing guns from the ATF.
More problems arise because dealers are not required by law to keep records of their inventory. Since 2005, well over 113,642 guns have gone missing from gun dealers around the country.
In 1995, Professor Glenn Pierce of Northeastern University analyzed ATF tracing data and discovered roughly 57 percent of all guns used in crimes could be traced back to only one percent of dealers. But this is no longer possible because of the destructive legislation hampering the ATF.
Fixing our gun problems in the U.S. does not necessarily involve creating new legislation. It involves funding and empowering the government agencies such as the ATF so that our current regulatory laws can be efficiently enforced.
We must eliminate useless and utterly absurd anti-regulatory legislation, as well as reform current laws to eliminate loopholes and further flaws.
We need universal background checks in every state for both private and retail transactions, and we need databases to aid in the tracing of firearms and shutting down of the dealers that refuse to abide by the law.
But we will not get anywhere until we transform rational discourse and embrace the fact that the current state of affairs will not allow us to enforce what is already in place.