In the wake of the deadly massacre in Texas last week New Mexico’s Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich has teamed with Arizona’s retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake to try and address the specific loophole that allowed the shooter to purchase firearms that legally he should have been barred from accessing.
This is a workable solution to a very specific but troubling “loophole” in the national debate around increased calls for smarter and safer gun laws. A vast majority of mass shooters in some of the deadliest attacks in the last decade have been flagged for domestic violence in their past and yet have still been able to buy firearms with shockingly little oversight.
But without all gun purchases being required to go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), states that allow private gun sales will still leave abusers and criminals nearly unlimited access to firearms through online sales, local classified ads, and any other private sales.
New Mexico is such a state.
For those who aren’t as familiar with the specifics of gun laws, selling firearms as a business is tightly regulated through a host of laws, but in all but nine states, those laws are easily negated by a clause in federal gun laws that states: “Any person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the State where he resides as long as he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.”
And that’s the biggest problem. Individuals who arrange to sell guns to strangers through secondary markets have no way to know if someone is violent or has past crimes that should disallow them from owning firearms.
Put simply, if someone wanted to sell a gun to someone else they met online, they should be required to do so in the presence of a licensed gun seller or some official with the proper means of identifying the buyer.
NRA backed legislators like Steve Pearce have resisted this kind of change for a host of political reasons mostly centered around the argument that “criminalizing the sellers” wouldn’t change the outcome of the crimes committed by criminals.
But in New Mexico, we have a clear example of at least one tragic incident that could have been avoided if private sales weren’t allowed.
READ MORE-Embedded in reports from the Federal firearms trial of Davon Lyman, the convicted felon accused of shooting Albuquerque Police Officer Daniel Webster last year, were new details surrounding how Lyman acquired the gun used to kill that officer: the convicted felon bought the gun in a parking lot from someone he had never met, without a background check that would have prevented the sale to a convicted felon.
Mass shootings are tragic events that force the issue of gun violence into the headlines. But for thousands of women killed in the United States every year by armed intimate partners, the weakness of current gun laws in states like New Mexico are doing exactly nothing to address the problem.
We need to do better.