From the Publisher: Melt the Guns

Common-sense solutions are needed to address gun-related crime.
Ben Young Publisher Georgia Trend with a tie and jacket and red background

Public safety is ramping up to be the talk of the upcoming political season. A major uptick in crime is driving the conversation, both in Atlanta and throughout the state, primarily in concentrated areas of high poverty – but affecting all of us.

The increase in crime seems to correlate to a continuing explosion of gun purchases that started with COVID-19. Shootings in Atlanta are up 40%, and the FBI reported 400,000 background checks for gun purchases in the first five months of 2021 in Georgia. And then there are the unregulated weapons.

Guns used in crimes are often acquired third hand. They may first be purchased legally at unregulated gun shows that do not require background checks in Georgia, then resold in a black market funnel of firearms in states with the fewest gun regulations and sold to criminals around the world. Some 30 gun shows were planned from September to December in Georgia as this was written, mostly in high crime counties. That’s eight shows a month or two each week.

Evidence suggests the current gun show loophole that makes background checks optional for anyone who is not a licensed firearm dealer isn’t working. Recently nine people were arrested in connection to some 200 guns purchased in Georgia, which were then sold illegally in New York, New Jersey, Florida and even Barbados, according to SaportaReport. In each case, guns were purchased from federally licensed gun dealers by buyers who lied about purchasing the weapons for personal use and instead sold them elsewhere, federal prosecutors reported.

Georgia is one of 12 states where police and sheriff’s departments are obligated by law to sell confiscated guns back to the community at auction (other states allow jurisdictions to destroy them or reuse them within the department).

I know the prevalent opinion in Georgia is that if you give gun-control advocates an inch, they’ll take a mile. But Georgians fear gun regulation at their peril. Studies show states with more regulation and low rates of gun ownership have fewer homicides – consider Georgia’s 15 homicides per 100,000 compared to 4.4 in New York (CNBC, 2016). Georgia had six regulations on the books at the time compared to New York’s 80.

Some might say we actually need more guns so citizens can protect themselves. However, guns used effectively in self-defense are in fact a rarity. A Harvard Injury Control Research Center/University of Vermont study found that guns are used for self-protection in less than 1% of all crimes that take place in the presence of a victim. They also found that people were more likely to be injured after threatening attackers with guns than if they had called the police or fled.

Other research backs these reports. In 2017, the Violence Policy Center reported that for every justifiable homicide in the U.S. involving a gun, guns were used in 35 criminal homicides; and that more guns are stolen each year than are used in self-defense.

If facts and figures aren’t your thing, go check your own county or city incident reports – they are public record. You will see the number of cases where guns are used judiciously are rare, while gun cases involving domestic and substance abuse dominate.

There are several gun-rights proposals that will surface when the Georgia legislature convenes next year. These represent paths into more or less chaos and violence. One would repeal the law that prohibits local law enforcement agencies from destroying or reusing confiscated weapons and requires them to sell confiscated guns at auction. This law hinders efforts to keep guns out of high-crime neighborhoods, where the majority of the spike in criminal activity has occurred.

The second path includes a push to legalize a variety of gun behaviors, such as waving a gun in public and preventing the hoarding of guns by agencies loath to return them to the community. The bill would also force agencies to return guns to criminals in some cases, make it easier for those convicted of misdemeanors to get a gun license and would allow guns in courthouses in some instances.

The direction Georgia takes will determine whether we are really serious about public safety. This is a pivotal chance for the state to send a message to the crime community that the flow of criminal weaponry through and within the South stops in the Peach State.

Let’s hope this discussion makes it into a debate season likely to overflow with extremities in both directions. Common sense solutions are what our communities need.

Categories: From the Publisher, Opinions