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Saturday, April 16, 2022

Breaking the federal gridlock on guns

Biden and Ghost Guns


Amid now familiar divides about gun legislation,  President Joe Biden on April 11 targeted “ghost guns” for special federal law enforcement.

Perfectly aware that he cannot get such a bill through Congress, Biden is relying on executive actions that are susceptible to overturn should an opponent win the next presidential election. Nevertheless, his remarks made clear that he feels the White House must do something to rein in a growing number of gun crimes across the country.

At the same time, he named Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney from Ohio, as a replacement to head the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency after being forced to withdraw his earlier choice because of unanimous Republican rejection of a candidate they saw as “anti-gun.”

With Republicans eyeing a return to majority in Congress in November, this nomination may not fare much better. Guns are too rich a political sloganeering platform.

Numbering Parts

If you’re going to pick a stand against guns, ghost guns seem a relatively safe way to go; these proposed regulations don’t even eliminate ghost guns. They merely requiring inclusion of manufacturing serial numbers on the parts for better tracking. These are gun-assembly kits sent through the mail that basically otherwise are untraceable as weapons. They can be produced by 3-D plastic printers, complete with ammunition, unfindable by metal detectors.

To anyone but a diehard gun defender, this is a class of weapons that law enforcement and civilians alike find objectionable and dangerous.

Nevertheless, we can expect challenges in Congress and in the courts to something “abridging” the perception that the Second Amendment bars any attempt to legislate even rules about gun usage.

It’s a tired argument, bristling with partisan politics, but one that flies in the face of public safety. According to the White House, ATF recovered 20,000 such ghost guns in criminal investigations, ten times as many as five years ago.

Ghost Guns

Several recent crimes, including a school shooting in Maryland and an errant shooting death near a school in the Bronx just last week, were being blamed on ghost guns.

There was no immediate report on what kind of weapon was used in the shooting of at least eight subway riders in Brooklyn yesterday. Still, with 20,726 non-suicide gun deaths in the United States last year, it’s a small percentage that come from ghost guns, according to the according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

Yet, Biden clearly wants to be seen as Doing Something.

In his new budget, he has proposed $1.7 billion for more enforcement and to authorize hiring of more local police in anti-gun patrols.

The politics here seem as evident as the need to address increases in crime.

The Republican solution is more policing; Democrats more prone to be gun control advocates have been pressuring for legal restrictions on assault-style guns, bigger ammunition capacities and ghost guns.

Meanwhile, we have a continuing series of school and workplace shootings and an increase in gun violence in urban areas. A disturbing number of those being prosecuted in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol face weapons charges as well.

We have congressmen in both parties who oppose any gun limits, including some who refuse to go through a magnetometer to enter the House floor.  We have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that appears ready to approve pending cases to expand legalization of concealed weapons. And we continue to have more guns in circulation than people in America.

Whatever these ghost gun regulations may do in the short run, they are not going to deal with the politics of fear.

Terry H. Schwadron retired as a senior editor at The New York Times, Deputy Managing Editor at The Los Angeles Times and leadership jobs at The Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin. He was part of a Pulitzer Gold Medal team in Los Angeles, and his team part of several Pulitzers in New York. As an editor, Terry created new approaches in newsrooms, built technological tools and digital media. He pursued efforts to recruit and train minority journalists and in scholarship programs. A resident of Harlem, he volunteers in community storytelling, arts in education programs, tutoring and is an active freelance trombone player.