By Brian E. Frosh
1:45 PM EDT, September 30, 2013
When the Maryland Firearm Safety Act goes into effect tomorrow, it will close a gaping hole in our gun violence prevention efforts by requiring firearm purchasers to provide their fingerprints to law enforcement. In the five other states where this policy is already in place, rates of gun-related deaths are among the nation's lowest.
We need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. Background checks have done this so effectively that few criminals nowadays just walk into a store to purchase a gun. Instead, they ask a friend, a relative or even a fellow gang member with no prior record to buy the weapon for them. Analysis of federal gun trafficking cases shows that this "straw purchase" method is a primary means through which criminals acquire guns.
Fortunately, we are still smarter than the criminals. Research by policy experts like Daniel Webster at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Gun Policy and Research and the experiences of law enforcement show that a licensing process that requires fingerprinting will deter straw purchases. Even a criminal's closest associates will think twice about buying a gun that could be traced to a future crime if they must first give their fingerprints to the police.
More than 80 percent of Marylanders — including 68 percent of gun owners — support the fingerprinting of handgun purchasers. Research has shown what common sense would suggest: that states with rigorous handgun licensing requirements see fewer legally-sold guns being diverted to criminals. For example, after Missouri repealed its licensing law in 2007, gun diversions to criminals surged and gun homicides increased 25 percent.
The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 also gives the Maryland State Police better access to records already kept by federally licensed dealers, allowing them to identify major sources of illegal guns. Only 1 percent of licensed gun dealers supply nearly 60 percent of all guns used to commit crimes. Our police need to be able to find them and take action. It took federal agents more than nine years to shut down Valley Guns in Baltimore County, which failed to account for a quarter of its inventory — over 400 missing firearms — in one year. Nearly 500 of the guns it sold were traced to crimes. Under the new law, our state police will not have to sit around and wait for the feds to identify and shut down bad gun dealers.
Making it harder for criminals to buy guns in Maryland is not enough. In New York City, where purchasing a firearm requires fingerprinting, as many as 90 percent of the guns found at crime scenes are purchased in another state. One of the most common states of origin is Virginia.
In Maryland, we have sent a powerful message to criminals: You will not be able to buy your guns here. Now we need our friends around the country to follow suit. The lives of Marylanders depend on it.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, represents District 16 in Montgomery County and is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He is a candidate for Maryland attorney general. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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