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Forget gun control and make the background check system work

It's hard to believe that Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Sunpaper's editorial writers ("O'Malley takes a stand," Jan. 13) are so naive that they really think that another law to banish this or that inanimate object ("assault" rifle) or licensing handgun purchasers/owners is going to keep guns out of the hands of those with intent to use them criminally. Every last one of us knows that the majority of guns used by criminals are purchased out of the trunk of a car, the back room of a bar or in an apartment in a public housing project. You want a Glock or a fully automatic (already illegal at state and national level) Mac 10? Oh, shoot, you have a rap sheet and a history of violence? Hey, no problem! Gimmie $500 and a couple of hours.

Feel good legislation is just that. It makes its promoters feel like they've done something, even if they have to pretend. Yeah, we have a licensing requirement to drive a car, but ask the state police how many they've caught driving without a license. And when they cause mayhem, your insurance company has to foot the bill (notice how Maryland requires you to pay for "Uninsured motorists" coverage?). An illegal alien, unlicensed and uninsured, recently totaled a friend's car. Only law abiding citizens get licensed and carry insurance. The scofflaws don't bother, and someone intent on breaking the law sure as heck isn't going to self incriminate by getting himself fingerprinted. So only the honest citizen will comply, and that won't be any more help to reducing criminal activity that it has been to pass drug laws. It will, however, once again, inconvenience the honest citizen. I recently encountered the fact that the state police (or local law enforcement) doesn't do digital fingerprinting. You have to go to a private company, who on average charge about $50 for the service. Makes me wonder if they've been lobbying...

More intensive background checks? Hooyah! Why not make the one we currently use — NICS, The National Instant Check System — able to live up to its promise by feeding the data into it as was intended. The last time I heard, the 443 forms that are filled out prior to every firearms transaction were piling up in state police filing cabinets and on the floor, because the legislature failed to provide them with dedicated funding to get the job done. I further understand that this is the situation in many law enforcement agencies across the country. So even if an individual was dumb enough to previously check yes to one of the invalidating questions and this data never makes it into the NICS system, the system won't catch him this time. More importantly, a person's criminal record or mental history is not being put into the system. Local and state-level law enforcement lack the resources to input criminal data as do mental health practitioners and facilities (the latter being further handicapped by privacy laws) So the system is useless, unless money and manpower is dedicated to making the system reliable.

So what do we do? Certainly we should implement more ineffective, knee jerk responses that tell the voters that we're doing something, or in Governor O'Malley's case, further enhance his stature on the national level. May I suggest a campaign slogan? "The man who can get it done."

Kenneth Kent

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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