Gun rights advocates are pushing to create Second Amendment sanctuaries in a bid to flout federal gun laws

Texas Ft. Worth gun show
Guns for sale at a gun show in Fort Worth, Texas, July 10, 2016.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for the state to become a Second Amendment sanctuary.
  • Second Amendment sanctuaries ignore federal or state gun laws they consider restrictive.
  • In recent years they’ve become a tactic among gun rights advocates to push back against federal restrictions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted in support of gun rights just hours before a deadly mass shooting in Bryan, Texas.

The shooting – the state’s 14th so far this year – left one dead and five injured and came at a particularly inopportune moment. Abbott is in the midst of a campaign to turn Texas into a Second Amendment sanctuary state – a state where federal gun restrictions would be ignored in favor of local laws more favorable to gun rights.

The legislation to make Texas a sanctuary state was introduced in February by Texas State Rep. Justin Holland. If passed, Texas will join Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, and Arizona, along with around 400 counties in 20 states, that have also designated themselves as gun rights sanctuaries.

The push to make Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary comes amid several executive orders from President Joe Biden calling for increased gun control measures, including a push for “red flag” legislation modeling, an investment in evidence-based community interventions, and measures to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns” – guns made out of purchased parts that are untraceable by authorities.

“Basically, we’re freezing Texas state law and federal laws in place that have to do with guns,” Holland told The El Paso Times. “And (we’re) not recognizing, at the state level, any federal changes.”

What are Second Amendment sanctuaries?

Second Amendment sanctuaries are meant to combat the perceived infringement of gun rights in a variety of forms. Cities, counties, and states alike can and have declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries in the US.

Those infringements might include laws requiring universal background checks prior to gun purchase, or bans on particular weaponry, including assault and automatic weapons, or red flag laws that allow law enforcement or family members to “flag” that a person with a gun may be a danger to themselves or others.

Worker inspects AR-15 gun in Utah
A worker inspects an AR-15 gun at Davidson Defense in Orem, Utah on March 20, 2020. – Gun stores in the US are reporting a surge in sales of firearms as coronavirus fears trigger personal safety concerns.

The trend of Second Amendment sanctuary cities and states began in earnest in 2018, when Effingham County, Illinois, passed a series of resolutions opposing bump stock bans and a mandatory 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases, along with a litany of other gun control measures.

Since then, more than 70 counties in Illinois have passed some kind of Second Amendment sanctuary legislation, The Trace reported.

In 2019, more than 120 cities and counties in Virginia declared themselves gun rights sanctuaries, in backlash to a Democrat sweep in state elections.

Last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that bans local and state governments and agencies from enforcing federal gun laws that are “inconsistent with or more restrictive than state law.”

Ducey told reporters the law was meant to be “a proactive law for what is possible to come out of the Biden administration.”

black gun club
Members of the Hudson Valley Nubian Gun Club practice at a shooting range in Monroe, New York, on July 30, 2020.

‘Renegade’ sheriffs opt out of enforcing federal law

Second Amendment sanctuaries often emerge from a refusal to enforce existing federal law.

Often, that decision comes from so-called “renegade” sheriffs and police who simply choose not to recognize laws they feel step on gun owners’ rights.

They consider themselves “constitutional sheriffs” and believe, according to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, that “the vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.”

In Culpeper, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins went so far as to write on Facebook that “if necessary,” he would “properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms.”

Voters in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia, and Illinois, among others, have all passed resolutions in support of local sheriffs who believe federal gun laws are unconstitutional.

church gun
A volunteer member of the congregation at Joyful Heart Church poses for a portrait with her concealed handgun inside the church in Stockdale, Texas on Sunday, January 26, 2020.

Even where Second Amendment sanctuary isn’t officially declared, some sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to buck federal gun laws.

Bob Norris, the sheriff of Kootenai County, Idaho, told reporters last month he wouldn’t enforce federal gun laws, regardless of whether the county voted to become a Second Amendment sanctuary or not.

“I would just like to tell you that regardless of what you decide here today, and regardless of what they decide in Washington, DC, there will be no gun confiscation here in Kootenai County,” Norris said at a local press conference. “Period.”

Three days after Norris’ press conference, the proposal to establish the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary fell flat after the Board of County Commissioners declined to support it by a vote of two to one.

Second Amendment sanctuary declarations are largely symbolic

But can these sanctuary declarations be enforced?

“A state, like Texas, declaring itself a “sanctuary” doesn’t invalidate federal law from operating in Texas,” Darrell Miller, co-faculty director of the Center for Firearms Law and a faculty member at Duke Law School, told Insider. If local law enforcement opts not to enforce gun laws, then “the FBI, ATF, and Department of Justice can still enforce federal law there.”

Miller cited the Supremacy Clause, which says that the Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

gun control
A demonstrator holds a sign depicting an assault rifle at a protest against President Trump’s visit, following a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Protestors also called for gun control and denounced white supremacy. Trump is scheduled to visit the city today. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Second Amendment sanctuary declarations “don’t have force of law,” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told USA Today after local jurisdictions began passing gun sanctuary bills in the state. “They are policy statements. They don’t empower localities to turn a blind eye to what is state law.”

Sanford V. Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas Law School, told Insider sanctuary declarations don’t nullify existing federal laws, but they can make it difficult to enforce them – which is the point.

“The laws are not invalid; it’s simply that the national government will be left on its own re the mechanisms of enforcement,” he said – which, given limited resources and budgets, means the federal government will often turn a blind eye.

Should the government want to compel local authorities to enforce federal law, they’d likely run into problems because the Supreme Court has already ruled that the federal government can’t “commandeer” state officials to enforce federal law, Levinson said, citing New York vs. United States 505 US 144.

“It simply comes down to whether the federal government wants to make it a case. But if the national government is willing to pay the price, then it will prevail,” he continued.

“It’s one thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘We’re not going to lift a finger to help you take guns away from our people,'” Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, told Oregon Live. “That’s OK. It’s another thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘Not only are we not going to lift a finger to help you, we’re going to do everything we can to stop you.'”

But that’s exactly what’s happened in Newton County, Missouri, where local lawmakers passed a Second Amendment Act that allows local law enforcement to arrest any federal agents attempting to enforce federal gun laws – though Miller says the statute isn’t actually enforceable.

Lindsey Graham shooting
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham uses images of handguns and rifles during a hearing about gun control on Capitol Hill January 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.

“The general proposition is that federal officers cannot be prosecuted by state or local authorities for acts done in furtherance of their official duties,” Miller told Insider, citing In re: Neagle, an 1890 Supreme Court case ruling that said federal agents are immune from local prosecution if operating in the furtherance of federal law.

Newton County, Missouri, Sheriff Chris Jennings did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Texas governor says shooting victim’s family wants Second Amendment sanctuary

The passage of ag Second Amendment sanctuary resolution is all but a foregone conclusion in Texas, a state where nearly half of all adult residents – 45.7% – live with a gun in the house, according to a 2020 Rand research project.

Gun control advocates say they’re gearing up for a court battle either way.

“The outcome for a bill like this would almost inevitably be a challenge in court,” Jim Henson, the executive director of The Texas Politics Project, told KXAN. “It’s hard not to see this as part of an effort to test the boundaries at how much states can push back against federal and constitutional provisions.”

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Gov. Abbott told host Chris Wallace he spoke with the family of the victims of the Bryan, Texas, shooting, who told him they supported the sanctuary state plan.

“I went to the hospital where the victims’ families were on the night of the shooting. And we hugged, and we cried, and we talked to them about it. As I was talking to family members of one of the victims, they said: ‘Governor, please, do not allow this shooting to strip us of our Second Amendment rights,'” he said.

bryan texas shooting
Barricades block the road leading up to the entrance of Kent Moore Cabinets in Bryan, Texas after a mass shooting at the facility on on on on April 8, 2021.

While Second Amendment sanctuary status may be largely symbolic, it speaks to a growing divide in the US over gun violence and how to quell it, especially after a year in which firearm-related incidents took the lives of more than 19,000 people – the highest number of gun-related deaths in 20 years, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“The nation has experienced a historic increase in violent crime in the past year. People want and need to protect themselves,” Joyce Malcolm, the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law, told Insider. “The number of FBI background checks for gun purchases continues to hit new records. January and March 2021 are the only time in the history of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun checks have broken four million.”

According to the Washington Post, more than two million guns were sold in the US in January alone – an 80% increase over the same month in 2020.

“Americans are buying guns at a blistering pace,” Malcolm added. “They will NOT give them up.”

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Biden says gun violence in America is ‘a blemish on our character as a nation’

President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during an event at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building April 7, 2021 in Washington DC. President Biden delivered remarks on the administration’s “American Jobs Plan.”
President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during an event at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building April 7, 2021 in Washington DC. President Biden delivered remarks on the administration’s “American Jobs Plan.”

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How American guns help Mexican cartels overwhelm Mexico’s police and military

Mexico cartel guns suspects
Suspects stand behind seized guns at a press conference in Tijuana, Mexico, March 24, 2010.

  • About 70% of guns used in crimes in Mexico that are seized and traced originated in the US.
  • Weapons sent illegally from the US to Mexico and used by criminal groups are overwhelming Mexican security forces.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – Almost 50 years after Mexico’s first law to restrict the use of firearms was implemented in an attempt to keep the country at peace, Mexico finds itself flooded with foreign weapons.

Mexico’s prohibitive laws against firearms have not stopped thousands of weapons from being used in its streets, directly threatening its own security forces.

About 70% of guns used in crimes in Mexico that are seized and traced originated in the US, according to an updated Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on efforts to combat firearms trafficking from the US to Mexico.

The weapons sent illegally from the US to Mexico and used by criminal groups are now overwhelming security forces in most Mexican states, and it is “almost impossible” to fight back, a state police officer in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas told Insider.

A Mexican police officer is killed by a gun every 16 hours, despite their own heavy armor and armament, according to a 2020 report by Causa en Común, a nonprofit organization focused on security issues in Mexico.

Mexico City forensic crime scene gun
Mexican forensic experts observe a gun used in an assault in La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, May 6, 2019

Heavily armed military personnel have been deployed throughout Mexico to fight crime, but state and local police forces, many of which are riven by corruption, are outgunned by criminals and face other challenges, such as low pay.

Criminal groups “are using military tactics and equipment like tanks, landmines, rocket-launchers. It is getting to a point where we are not equipped enough to fight back, and most of the time we rather leave than stay to fight,” the officer said, speaking anonymously to avoid retaliation.

English journalist Ioan Grillo, who has covered crime in Mexico for more than 20 years, says most of the automatic weapons sold legally in the US end up in the wrong hands in Mexico, driving armed conflict there.

“At least 200,000 guns cross illegally from the US into Mexico every year,” Grillo told Insider.

Drug cartels use high-powered firearms, such as .50-caliber rifles, that can rip through armored vehicles, as well as weapons capable of shooting down government helicopters, as happened in Michoacan in 2016.

Grillo’s new book, “Blood, Gun, Money,” examines how Mexico’s biggest challenge has its origins in the US.

“Mexico is now dealing with a hybrid armed conflict fueled by the ‘iron river’ flowing south of the border,” Grillo said. “This needs to be addressed and stopped by both countries.”

Mexico guns rifles firearms
Hundreds of firearms on display before being destroyed at the Morelos military headquarters in Tijuana, Mexico, August 12, 2016.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a press release that firearms trafficking to Mexico is “out of control” and urged Congress to “move quickly to crack down” on it.

“Neither Mexico nor the United States can solve these challenges alone and I look forward to continue working on these issues with [Sen. Dick] Durbin and our partners in Mexico,” Meeks said. (Meeks and Durbin requested the updated GAO update.)

This armed conflict has its deepest roots in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, where the vast majority of those more than 200,000 guns come across from Texas, which has a strong gun culture.

“Ciudad Juarez has become the number-one for illegal guns trafficking into Mexico,” Grillo said.

Ciudad Juarez was known as the “murder capital of the world” in the late 2000s, when violence largely related to organized crime caused more than 13 murders a day, according to official figures.

During four years of research for his book, Grillo interviewed an illegal arms trafficker at a local prison in Ciudad Juarez, who described how Mexican cartels benefit from the US’s permissive gun laws.

“This trafficker thought gun shows in Texas were illegal because of how easy it was to get a hold of powerful firearms,” Grillo said. “They enter gun shows in places like El Paso and buy firearms from alleged collectors who are selling all kinds of guns without asking for any documentation.”

Texas Ft. Worth gun show
Guns for sale at a gun show in Fort Worth, Texas, July 10, 2016.

A hitman, or sicario, for the Juarez Cartel interviewed by Insider confirmed the use of gun shows to supply his organization and described how they traffic arms into Mexico.

“There are some people [with clean records] we send to El Paso or to Tucson to legally buy guns or ammo in small quantities … and then we traffic them little by little,” he said.

“But the real firepower, we get it from dealers who have the permits to sell military-grade weaponry,” the man said.

The sicario also said they buy “heavy weaponry” from “private security agencies” or even from members of the US military.

“If [the guns] are trafficked through Juarez, we disassemble them and put them inside old fridges or a bunch of scrap [metal], and we pay Mexican customs to let all the scrap into Mexico. When it is through Arizona, we bring them all the way from Vegas in containers and smuggle them through the desert,” he said.

But while he points to gun shows and gun stores in the US, some gun owners point further up the chain.

Former Las Vegas gun dealer Wesley Felix accuses the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of framing him and his family during Operation Fast and Furious, a federal investigation between 2009 and 2011 that allowed illegal gun sales so authorities could track their buyers and sellers.

“In my family’s case, the ATF knowingly worked with known criminals and used a confidential informant to illegally purchase many firearms without our consent or knowledge,” Felix said, adding that he believes his store was targeted because it sold class-three weapons, which includes machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers.

Mexico guns for peace
A boy looks at one of the sculptures in an exhibition called Guns for Peace at Bishopric Hill in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, Mexico, March 31, 2015.

Felix recently sent a letter with more than 30 pages of documents to the Mexican government addressing this issue. Insider obtained a copy of the letter and documents and confirmed their receipt through a Mexican diplomatic source.

In March 2016, the US Justice Department said it and the ATF “deeply regret[ed]” that firearms related to Operation Fast and Furious were used in violent crimes, “particularly crimes resulting in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials.”

Felix believes the problem facing Mexico as it grapples with drug-related violence is not cartels or even gun shops like his but “the biggest cartel, which is the US Department of Justice.”

But Grillo said a solution will rely on actions by the US and Mexico and that one country alone will never end illegal arms trafficking.

“Gun culture is rooted inside the US. It is very different from what happens in Mexico. But this issue has to be addressed by both countries. Both of them need to stop the iron river,” said Grillo.

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A breakdown of gun terminology to help you in discussions on mass shootings and debates over gun control

AR 15
AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 2017.

  • The language surrounding firearms can be tricky.
  • “Assault-weapons,” for example, is among the most divisive phrases in debates over gun control.
  • There’s been a renewed discussion over gun control following recent mass shootings.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Given the ongoing and divisive debate over gun control in the US, it’s helpful to understand the breakdown of some of the most important terms that frequently come up after mass shootings.

Some of these terms might appear inconsequential, but they relate strongly to discussions on what type of guns and firearm accessories should be regulated more strictly or even banned. And some in the pro-Second Amendment camp have been known to mock people calling for new gun laws when they use incorrect terminology in reference to firearms.

In the renewed discussion surrounding gun control following two high-profile mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, that occurred less than a week apart, familiar disagreements are arising over terminology surrounding firearms.

Here’s a summary of some of the more common and contentious terms linked to guns and the broader discourse surrounding them in the US.

Semi-automatic vs. automatic

Semi automatic
Customers view semi-automatic guns on display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California, on December 19, 2012.

A semi-automatic firearm refers to a gun that fires a single round or bullet each time the trigger is squeezed or pulled, and then automatically reloads the chamber between shots. 

An automatic firearm is essentially what many Americans likely think of as a machine gun, or a firearm that continuously fires while the trigger is squeezed or pulled and reloads the chamber automatically.

The vast majority of firearms in the US are semi-automatic and include rifles and handguns. Semi-automatic firearms are available across the US with few restrictions. 

Automatic weapons are heavily regulated and expensive.

The manufacture and importation of new automatic firearms has been prohibited since the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. But this still allows for the purchase of automatic firearms made before a certain date in 1986, meaning automatics are technically legal in certain circumstances.

Magazine vs. clip

Magazine
A gun and a magazine is pictured in this evidence photo released by the Connecticut State Police on December 27, 2013.

“Magazine” and “clip” are often used interchangeably, though they aren’t the same thing. 

A magazine is a container that holds cartridges or rounds of ammunition and feeds them into the firing chamber of a gun. Some magazines are internal, while others are detachable. 

A clip holds multiple rounds of ammunition together, often on a metal strip, to be fed into a magazine. Most guns have magazines (revolvers and some types of shotguns do not have magazines), but not all firearms use clips. 

 

 

 

Assault-weapons

Assault weapons
Frank Loane, owner of Pasadena Pawn and Gun, stands in front of a wall of assault rifles at his store in Pasadena, Maryland, on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.

“Assault-weapons” is among the most contentious phrases in discussions on gun control.

There’s not a universal definition of what an assault weapon is, which is part of the reason this subject tends to antagonize the gun lobby or pro-gun advocates. 

But in 1994, after the now-expired assault-weapons ban passed, the Justice Department said, “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.”

The gun industry often defines an assault rifle as a firearm with “select fire capabilities,” or the ability to adjust or switch the firearm between semi-automatic and automatic settings or modes.

In short, pro-Second Amendment groups typically say a firearm should only be called an assault-weapon when it’s capable of fully automatic fire — or they reject the terminology altogether. 

“None of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians are assault rifles as the term is used in military contexts,” Florida State University criminal justice professor emeritus Gary Kleck, told PolitiFact.

Kleck added, “Assault rifles used by members of the military can all fire full automatic, like machine guns, as well as one shot at a time, whereas none of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians can fire full automatic.”

Based on the idiosyncrasies of this issue and the broader debate surrounding it, many gun control advocates tend to refer to semi-automatic firearms that have been used in mass shootings as “assault-style” or “military-style” weapons. 

Polling has consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans would support an assault-weapons ban. 

AR-15

AR 15
AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 2017.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle and has been referred to by the National Rifle Association as “America’s most popular rifle.” 

The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle,” but is linked to the original manufacturer of the firearm: ArmaLite, Inc. The name stands for ArmaLite Rifle. 

The AR-15 was originally developed by ArmaLite to be a military rifle, designing it for fast reloading in combat situations, but the company hit financial troubles. By 1959, ArmaLite sold the design of the AR-15 to Colt, which had success in pitching it to the US military.

The rifle’s automatic version, the M-16, was used during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Colt sold the semi-automatic version, the AR-15, to the public and police. 

“If you’re a hunter, camper, or collector, you’ll want the AR-15 Sporter,” a 1963 advertisement for the firearm said.

Colt’s patent on the rifle’s operating system expired in 1977, opening the door for other manufacturers to copy the technology and make their own models. 

The AR-15 was prohibited from 1994 to 2004 via the assault weapons ban. Gun manufacturers promptly reintroduced the AR-15 after the ban expired, and sales went way up. 

There are “well over 11 million” AR-15 style rifles in the hands of Americans, according to an investigation by CBS News’s “60 Minutes,” which also notes handguns kill “far more people.”

But AR-15 style rifles have frequently been used in mass shootings, placing the firearm at the center of the debate over gun control — particularly in relation to whether an assault weapons ban should be reimposed. 

High-capacity magazines

High capacity magazines
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut speaks at a news conference on a proposed amendment to ban high-capacity magazines in guns in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2019.

High or large-capacity magazines are typically defined as ammunition-feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds. Nine states currently ban high-capacity magazines.

High-capacity magazines are capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition, allowing for dozens of shots to be fired off before reloading. The rifle used in a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, was affixed with a 100-round drum magazine.

 

Bump stock

Bump stock
A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, on October 4, 2017.

A bump stock is an attachment that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire at a more rapid rate. 

It replaces the standard stock of a rifle, or the part of the firearm that rests against the shoulder. A bump stock uses the recoil effect to bounce the rifle off of the shoulder of the shooter, which in turn causes the trigger to continuously bump back into the shooter’s trigger finger. 

In effect, bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns. 

Bump stocks were banned by the Trump administration in a large part due to the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, which was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

 

Red flag law

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a sign during a rally against guns and white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2019.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Rally against guns and white supremacy in front of the White House in Washington

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk laws, allow judges to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms if they’re considered a danger to themselves or others. 

Nineteen states and Washington, DC, have implemented some form of a red flag law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Gun show loophole

gun show
In this Jan. 26, 2013 file photo, a customer looks over shotguns on display at the annual New York State Arms Collectors Association Albany Gun Show at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, New York.

The so-called “gun show loophole” is among the most discussed topics in relation to calls for gun reform advocates for expanded background checks.

“Gun show loophole” is a catch-all phrase referring to the sale of firearms by unlicensed, private sellers at gun shows and other venues — including the internet — without the involvement of background checks. 

Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks, but not all sellers are required to be licensed — laws vary from state to state. In this sense, there is a “loophole” that allows private sellers to sell firearms without conducting background checks. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that licenses gun dealers.

“As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit,” the ATF states. “In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”

The implementation of a federal law requiring universal background checks, or background checks for all gun sales, has been at the top of the wish list for gun control advocates for years.

It’s also a policy that the vast majority of Americans support. According to polling conducted by Pew Research Center in late 2018, 91% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans favor background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.

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Asian Americans are increasingly purchasing guns to defend themselves amid a spike in hate crimes

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Rifles displayed in a gun shop in Salem, Oregon.

  • More Asian Americans are buying firearms to protect themselves against hate crimes.
  • The spike in sales comes amid a surge in racist rhetoric and attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A recent analysis found hate crimes against Asian Americans rose nearly 150% in 2020.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More Asian Americans are buying firearms to protect themselves amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Forbes.

“Before, there was never gun culture in the Asian community. But after the pandemic and all the hate crime going on, there are more Asians buying guns to defend themselves,” Jimmy Gong, the owner of New York-based Jimmy’s Sport Shop, was quoted as saying in the Forbes report.

During the pandemic, gun sales have doubled for Gong. About half of his business derives from Asian Americans, who also buy a lot of pepper spray, he told the outlet.

According to the report, gun stores across the US are also seeing an increasing number of Asian Americans purchasing firearms for self-defense purposes. Poway Weapons & Gear in California saw a 20% increase in Asian American first-time buyers over the past year compared with the year before that, said Danielle Jaymes, the store’s general manager.

Six of the eight people killed in the Atlanta shootings on Tuesday were Asian women, although no motive for the shootings has been established. Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been named by police as the suspect in all eight deaths, which took place at spas. He was arrested after a car chase south of Atlanta in Crisp County, around 150 miles away.

A recent analysis found hate crimes against Asian Americans rose nearly 150% in 2020. President Joe Biden addressed the spike in a televised broadcast on Friday, labeling it “un-American” and insisted that “it must stop.”

Though police officers have ramped up patrols in Asian American communities to try and safeguard against attacks, many people are still choosing to take defense into their own hands, The New York Post reported.

As Anti-Asian rhetoric increased during the pandemic, former President Donald Trump was criticised for referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” The World Health Organization has urged people not to use that term, along with several others.

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8 House Republicans vote in support of expanding background checks on gun purchases

AR-15 style rifles
Workers arrange AR-15 style rifles on a wall that are for sale at Davidson Defense in Orem, Utah on February 4, 2021.

  • Eight Republicans voted in favor of a bill that would expand background checks on gun sales.
  • The House passed two bills on Thursday aimed at gun safety.
  • Three Republicans co-sponsored the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Eight House Republicans on Thursday broke from their party and joined Democrats to support a bill that would expand background check requirements for gun purchases and transfers.

The legislation, named the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, passed the House in a 227-203 vote on Thursday. It was co-sponsored by three GOP lawmakers, Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Salazar of Florida, as well as Andrew Garbarino of New York and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois also voted in favor of the bill.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted against it.

The bill would close the “Gun Show Loophole” and make firearms transactions between unlicensed individuals illegal. It would require a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer to take possession of the firearm and conduct a background check.

“This status quo is unacceptable,” Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, who introduced the bill, said in a statement on Thursday. “I’ve introduced legislation to close the private gun sale loophole. Because background checks work and expanding them would only make more people safe from gun violence.”

Democrats have long prioritized implementing expanded gun-safety measures in the country in response to mass shootings. Thursday’s passage marks the party’s first major efforts on gun control since winning the White House and retaking the House and Senate.

“We hope that the with the big, strong bipartisan vote we have today, to send it over to the Senate and the drumbeat across America, that the change will come,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a news conference on Thursday.

The House on Thursday also passed another bill, called the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, in a 219-210 vote. Only a pair of Republicans, Smith and Fitzpatrick, supported the legislation. Two Democrats, Golden and Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, opposed it.

That bill would close the “Charleston Loophole,” which under current federal law allows a gun transaction to proceed even if a background check is incomplete after three business days. The legislation aims to expand the requirement to 10 business days.

Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn spearheaded the bill in response to the 2015 Charleston church shooting in South Carolina, where a white supremacist killed nine Black Americans.

Giffords Law Center, a gun-safety group, estimates that around 22% of Americans obtained their most recent gun without a background check. National polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans – more than 90% – support background check requirements.

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Biden and Congress need to tackle the gun violence crisis – before it’s too late

joe biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the more than 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the Cross Hall of the White House February 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Since Democrats control the White House and Congress, it’s time to address gun violence.
  • Passing sensible laws on background checks and firearm locks would be supported by a large majority of Americans.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Last month, President Joe Biden took the oath of office and vowed to guide our nation through the many crises we face. Since then, he has wasted no time in getting to work on the pandemic, our crippled economy, racial injustice, and the global climate crisis. 

But of all the many issues on Biden’s agenda, there’s one that has received little air time: gun safety. With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, this might be our best chance in decades to take steps towards meaningful reform that could stem the deadly tide.

The next crisis on the agenda

The national conversation about gun safety, like so many other issues, has been largely silenced by the all-consuming pandemic. But before the virus arrived, mass shootings were tragically pervasive. 

Gun deaths have risen steadily in recent years, and mass shootings are becoming more frequent and more deadly. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, El Paso, Dayton, Santa Fe High, the Las Vegas strip, Sandy Hook, and countless other tragedies have been constant reminders to Americans of the urgency of the gun crisis. 

In 2018, students nationwide joined the March For Our Lives movement and walked out of classrooms in protest of our government’s failure to pass gun safety legislation. It seemed that America had finally reached a tipping point – that much-needed reform could no longer be ignored. And yet, while the movement compelled Florida’s governor at the time, Rick Scott, to break from the NRA and sign a sweeping gun safety bill for his state, larger national legislation like universal background checks never escaped the Republican Senate’s legislative graveyard

But while the movement has yet to yield major national policy victories, it has made significant strides in the court of public opinion

Polling has consistently found that an overwhelming majority – up to 94% of Americans – support universal background checks for all gun buyers. “Red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from high-risk individuals and are effective at preventing workplace shootings and domestic killings, are supported by Americans of both parties. And a strong majority also support gun licensing, banning assault weapons, and outlawing the sale of high-capacity magazines

When the virus finally recedes, the energy around the gun safety movement will return, likely, sadly, following another tragedy. High-profile shootings will once again bring gun violence to national headlines. Soon, more students and workers will be back to routine, traumatic active shooter drills. Our return to relatively normalcy will mean a return to the normal tragedy that is the American gun crisis, which is why now is the time for congressional Democrats and strong-willed Republican allies to act. 

’21 Guns

Two weeks ago, on the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Biden called on Congress to institute “commonsense gun law reform,” signaling that a concerted push is hopefully on the horizon. With the president on board, a blue House and Senate, and overwhelming public support for gun safety legislation, there is real reason to be optimistic about our government finally breaking the stalemate that has held for over a quarter century. But it won’t be easy. The slim Democratic Senate majority means that gaining support from the center of the chamber – moderates of both parties – is critical. 

Not all moderates have voted along party lines on gun issues in the past. For example, in the 2013 vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill, a limited gun background check measure, nine senators strayed from their party. So for every Democratic moderate who may balk at proposed gun policy, you may get a Republican to sign on. Democratic leaders will have to be surgical in crafting policy that will enable them to secure moderate votes, particularly if the filibuster remains intact. 

As a starting point, Democrats need to take the first steps of change that can get through a closely divided Congress. For example, Ethan’s Law, which simply requires households with children to lock firearms – rather than restricting gun sales – may be a foot in the door. Measures that aim to close loopholes in existing policy like Jaime’s Law, which mandates background checks to buy ammunition, may also be more achievable in the near-term than reviving an assault weapons ban.

The opposition to gun safety measures has one approach: no change, no compromise. But if we continue to do nothing, we will guarantee the return of mass domestic shootings in a post-pandemic world.

Democrats need to face reality that the clock is ticking. If historical midterm election patterns hold, Democrats will lose their narrow majority in the House next year. This may be the last best hope to do something meaningful for a very long time, so Democrats must act with urgency. 

Biden and the Democratic Party have rightfully and accurately triaged the mess of crises left in the wake of the previous administration. However, the gun violence issue isn’t going away and will continue to cost our country precious lives until meaningful reform is passed. On the heels of a record-shattering year for firearm sales, it’s never been a more critical time to act. 

Democrats must not squander this rare opportunity to deliver lifesaving reform that the American people demand.

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A loophole might allow lawmakers to bring guns into the Capitol, but it’s not a free pass to violate local laws

A police officer stands guard near the north door of the Capitol on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC.
A police officer stands guard near the north door of the Capitol on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC.

  • An exception to a Capitol gun ban lets lawmakers store their licensed firearms in their offices.
  • Some have chosen to wear them on their person, dodging security measures after the Capitol siege. 
  • Lawyers told Insider the exception doesn’t give lawmakers a pass to walk around with guns in DC. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Gun-toting lawmakers at the US Capitol insist on bringing their firearms to work, and it’s causing a stir in the halls of Congress.

A 54-year-old loophole in the building’s firearms ban has emerged in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, during which hundreds of pro-Trump extremists took control of the Capitol, putting the nation’s lawmakers and their staff in danger. 

In response to the breach, Capitol police implemented new safety protocols, including newly installed metal detectors and mask requirements.

Freshman GOP congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who has engaged with QAnon conspiracy theories and owns a gun-themed restaurant in Colorado, recently refused to walk through the metal detector in the building, or to allow Capitol police to search her bag.

She had also released an ad in which she wore a gun on her hip in the city and said she “will carry [her] firearm in DC and in Congress.”

This week, GOP Rep. Andy Harris also tried to carry a concealed gun onto the House floor. When he was stopped at the metal detector, he tried to hand the gun to a colleague, who refused because he’s unlicensed to carry the weapon. 

Altogether, at least 10 Republicans in Congress were seen walking around the machines to get into the chamber. 

Their actions enraged some of their colleagues. 

“The moment you bring a gun on the House floor in violation of House rules, you put everyone around you in danger,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CNN this week. “I don’t really care what they say their intentions are, I care what the impact of their actions are. And the impact is to put all 435 members of Congress in danger.” 

The Republican lawmakers bringing guns to the building are leaning into a 1967 exemption to the Capitol grounds gun ban, which says that no federal or District of Columbia laws restricting firearms “shall prohibit any Member of Congress from maintaining firearms within the confines of his office” or “from transporting within Capitol grounds firearms unloaded and securely wrapped.”

That exemption doesn’t allow lawmakers to bring the guns into the House chamber and nearby areas, according to Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat from California who has reignited his effort to repeal the exemption. 

“I’ve been pushing for years to change this outdated rule, knowing there was an inevitable risk in allowing Members to carry guns in the Capitol,” Huffman said in a statement. “While we’d like to think we could rely on common decency, we now have colleagues who are QAnon and white supremacist sympathizers, incite violence and insurrection, and have even bragged about bringing guns into the House Chamber.”

Even with this controversial loophole in place, though, the exemption doesn’t work as a free pass to flout local laws, DC defense attorneys told Insider.

To get the guns onto Capitol grounds, they have to bring it through DC – which has some of the strictest laws in the US – and that’s not something that can be done overnight.

“I find it hard to believe that many of the members who are in Congress right now went through this process to get their DC gun license,” Attorney Nabeel Kibria, who specializes in defending people accused of gun crimes, told Insider.

Lauren Boebert
Lauren Boebert poses for a portrait at Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado on April 24, 2018

District gun laws are among the strictest in the country

The process to register a firearm in the District of Columbia is not easy, and it was only within the last five years when the process to carry a concealed gun, as Harris did, was even established.

In order to legally own a gun in Washington, DC, the firearm needs to be registered in the city. 

The gun, which has to be bought outside of the city because none are sold there, needs to then be shipped to the DC police department, attorney David Benowitz, of Price Benowitz LLP, told Insider. 

When the gun arrives at the department, the buyer can go to the station and fill out registration and background check paperwork, have their fingerprints taken, and be photographed. After the 10-day waiting period, if they’re approved, the can pick up the gun. The registration allows them to have the gun, but not carry it on them. 

The process has to be completed for each gun a person owns.

“If all you have is the registration, and say you want to go to the firing range, you need to keep it in the trunk, unloaded, in a container that’s secured. Benowitz said. “The ammunition needs to be in a separate container.”

To carry a loaded gun on your person, the process is far more difficult, Benowitz said. 

“You have to take classes. You have to be approved for it. It is not a simple process,” Benowitz said. “I can’t speak to a specific legislator, but I can tell you that they haven’t done that, once they cross that border into the District of Columbia, and once they get inside the Capitol, it’s illegal.”

“If it’s readily available, it’s a felony,” Benowitz added, referring to firearms in DC. 

Open-carry is always illegal in the city. A spokeswoman for the DC police department told Insider there is at least one member of Congress who is registered to own a gun in the city, but she couldn’t release the name, and there is no immediate way for her to check how many Senate and House staff have gone through the registration process. 

Capitol police didn’t return an email seeking clarification on details of the exemption. 

Harris’ office also didn’t immediately return a comment on whether he was licensed to carry in Washington, DC, but issued a statement to The Hill. 

“Because his and his family’s lives have been threatened by someone who has been released awaiting trial, for security reasons, the Congressman never confirms whether he nor anyone else he’s with are carrying a firearm for self-defense. As a matter of public record, he has a Maryland Handgun Permit,” the statement to The Hill said. “And the Congressman always complies with the House metal detectors and wanding. The Congressman has never carried a firearm on the House floor.”

In Boebert’s ad, she bragged about walking around Capitol Hill with her Glock on her hip.

It’s unclear if she has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the city, but police Chief Robert Contee III said during a news conference this week that his department would be in contact with her.

qanon shaman jacob chansley jake angeli capitol riot insurrection siege
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli (C), a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.

Being licensed elsewhere isn’t a pass to carry in DC

If someone is caught illegally carrying a concealed weapon in the District of Columbia, they tend to face three charges: possession of an unregistered firearm, possession of unregistered ammunition, and a felony charge of carrying a pistol without a license, Kibria said.

The district’s close proximity to Virginia and Maryland means the gun laws change quickly within just a short drive around the area. 

It’s not uncommon for defendants charged with gun crimes to simply have not realized they still had their gun with them when crossing the border into the city, Benowitz  said. 

Even if they can immediately prove they’re licensed at home, they can still be – and often are – arrested, Benowitz said, adding: “DC doesn’t have reciprocity with any other district.”

Being licensed at home might get some leniency for the defendant down the road, when working out a plea deal, but “it has nothing to do with whether the law is broken,” Benowitz said.

Kibria, who has been contacted by at least 15 defendants who were arrested at or around the Capitol on January 6 while carrying guns, said he has recently seen an uptick in business from defendants in gun-related cases.

“Over the last four years I’ve had plenty of MAGA, I guess we can say Trump supporters – many wealthy ones – who are big Second Amendment people. They love their guns. In their states they’re licensed and they carry their guns with them everywhere. They sleep with their guns,” he said. “They come to DC thinking it’s OK, but they will be arrested.”

In these cases, when defendants are people who are properly licensed to carry firearms in their home state, lawyers might be able to get their three charges – including a felony- knocked down to a misdemeanor, he said. 

“Now if it’s a little more, because they don’t have a proper license at home, then they will probably have to plead guilty to the felony version of carrying a pistol without a license, and my job is to make sure they don’t do any jail time,” Kibria said. 

In either situation, they’re firearm is confiscated and they don’t get it back, he added.

Without knowing whether the members of Congress bringing guns into the Capitol are properly licensed, Kibria still finds it unnerving that they have been dodging metal detectors that were installed after the insurrection. 

“My very first job out of college, I worked on the Hill. I worked for Sen. Tom Carper,” Kibria said. “It’s haunting to me. Per the law, if the Capitol police are called, anyone who is violating the law and doesn’t have their DC gun license should be arrested on the spot.” 

“However, in terms of the context, it’s not like any other store or office, it’s the halls of Congress,” he said. “I think enforcement is all on the leadership of the Congress and the House.” 

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