Guns, ammo purchases way too easy


Here in bucolic Central Kentucky the deadly turmoil in San Bernardino, Boston, Paris, Aleppo seems remote.

But a small, dangerous world it turned out to be when The Wall Street Journal reported that, in addition to a huge stash of arms, ammo and pipe bombs, the couple who shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, also had a receipt from Buds Gun Shop in Lexington.

Buds was quick to post on Facebook that it had no record of selling an actual gun to the couple but was silent on whether the package shipped to Syed Farook included ammunition or other lethal supplies. Like so many whose business or political lives rely on protecting access to guns and ammunition in the United States, Bud’s offered prayers for those affected by the shootings.

It’s time to move beyond prayer to action.

There are at least two proposals that could reduce gun violence in the U.S. without limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns: requiring background checks for every gun purchase and extending those checks to ammunition sales.

If Farook, a native-born adult citizen with no criminal record, bought a gun from Buds, it would have been shipped to a licensed gun dealer near him, where he’d have to clear the required background check before receiving the gun.

However, sometimes the background checks are bungled (as with Dylann Roof, the accused shooter of nine people in a Charleston, S.C. church last summer) and not all guns are sold through licensed dealers. Many guns used in criminal acts are sold by individuals, at gun shows or flea markets or in more private transactions that are never recorded. Guns are also sold in so-called “straw man” transactions to people who can pass background checks on behalf of criminals who can’t. And, of course, some guns are stolen.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – named for James Brady, the press secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was seriously wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt – reports that 40 percent of U.S gun sales take place without a background check.

And once someone has a gun, buying ammunition, lots of it, is remarkably easy.

James Holmes, the theater shooter in Aurora, Colo., for example, bought 3,000 rounds each, of handgun and rifle ammunition online, legally, in the months leading up to his attack. To the question, “can you buy ammo online?” Ammunitionstore.com offers an enthusiastic, “of course you can!” “No FFL/FOID faxing or uploading required to buy ammo in most states!”

Thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association’s throttle hold on most national politicians, it has been hard for this country to move beyond prayers to action to reduce gun violence.

The ready access to guns and ammunition account for the stunning U.S. statistics: More guns than people, about 20 times the gun murder rate of other developed countries, and an even higher incidence of suicide by gun.

A few states and several cities have enacted controls and there is evidence that they decrease gun violence. Despite hysterical rhetoric about the Second Amendment, the courts for the most part have left those controls in place.

Just last week the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of an assault weapon ban in a Chicago suburb. Last year the court turned back the NRA’s challenge of a law that makes “straw man” gun purchases illegal.

In a strange alliance, the NRA has joined civil liberties groups to oppose President Barack Obama’s proposal to ban people on the federal government’s terrorism no-fly list from buying guns. The no-fly list certainly has its flaws but it’s reasonable to at least impose a delay on the purchase of guns by people on the list until their status is made clear.

It is time to acknowledge that making it harder for criminals, people with mental disorders, or domestic violence or drug convictions to buy guns and unlimited ammunition will only make us safer.