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November 11, 2013

Let’s Get the Facts Right and Concentrate on Criminals Who Use Guns


Last week in our headquarters state’s largest newspaper, Ron Pinciaro, the leader of the anti-gun group Connecticut Against Gun Violence, authored an op-ed, “Stop In-State Gun Trafficking to Criminals,” Although the space that the Hartford Courant allowed us was short, we did respond to the inaccurate and misleading essay. Here’s what we would have said in much more detail if given the opportunity:

To begin with, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that every state is its own leading source for guns used in crimes. Connecticut is not unusual. Mr. Pinciaro also fails to note that the average time between when a firearm was used in a crime in Connecticut and when it was sold at retail (with its mandated background check) is more than 12 and a quarter years, more than a year above the national average, according to the ATF. In other words, guns used in crimes tend to have been on the street for many years.

The overwhelming numbers of guns used in crime are stolen. Despite the author’s suggestion, straw purchasing of firearms for prohibited persons is rare in Connecticut, given our long standing pistol permit requirement. Still, the firearms industry takes the straw purchasing issue seriously and has operated the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” public awareness and retailer education program in cooperation with ATF for more than a dozen years. This fall, we brought the campaign to several Southern New England metro areas, including Hartford. The electronic and traditional billboards were prominent. The effort at retail is ongoing.

Year in and year out, we run programs to help federally-licensed retailers stay in compliance with all reporting requirements. We work in cooperation with law enforcement to reduce illegal trafficking, including matching all ATF rewards for information used to solve thefts at retail. There have been a few bad actors and they deserve prosecution – but they are rare exceptions and to suggest otherwise is wrong and unsupportable. Both prosecutions and license revocations are rare, even as the number of ATF inspections has been increasing over the last decade.

To stop the criminal misuse of firearms the only truly effective tactic is to focus on the criminals. At last month’s International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference, ATF agents with whom we spoke told us that the bureau’s new focus on targeting the small percentage of individuals committing most of the crimes involving guns is paying dividends. ATF has helped take several repeat offenders off the street and the agents tell us they are eager to use the bureau’s intelligence data in cooperation with regional agencies to do more of this targeted law enforcement.

“Focus law enforcement on the violent USE (their emphasis) of firearms vs. possession. Enforcement operations are more effective through targeting specific individuals (shooters) vs. general geographic areas,” reads an ATF fact sheet handed out at the IACP conference.

Mr. Pinciaro’s essay suggested that firearms retailers are a major cause behind the criminal misuse of firearms. Quite the opposite, we are playing an important role, if purposely ignored for political reasons, in helping to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them.

P.S. to Mr. Pinciaro: In regard to the name of your organization, no sane person is FOR violence of any sort and we all want safer communities. Firearms retailers are on the front lines in that pursuit.