Quora Question: Which American Gun Laws Aren't Being Enforced?

Guns for sale are displayed in Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon, United States, October 3, 2015. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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Answer from Tom Kehoe, "lifelong shooter, firearms instructor, and maker of fine leather holsters:"

Honestly? Most of them.

At least if we're talking about federal regulations designed to control the flow of illegal guns. And the primary reason for that is that the federal regulations are either unenforceable or simply ineffective. Here are a couple of examples:

Let's talk about the so-called "Gun Show Loophole." The claim is that we need to extend background checks to folks who sell guns at guns shows who are not federally licensed dealers. The anti-gunners claim that this is a loophole, but it's not. It's an unenforced law.

At every gun show, you'll see collectors buying and selling. They post a sign that reads "Private Sales," indicating that they are not gun dealers under the law and do not have an FFL [federal firearms license]. But in every important way, they are dealers. Some are legitimately collectors who trade pieces from vast collections, but some are simply guys buying and selling guns. This is already against the law. And the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] knows all about it, because the ATF has a presence at virtually every gun show in the country. And yet, they almost never prosecute these guys. Why? Well, they claim they don't have the resources.

By the way, the ATF actually created this problem. Once upon a time, collectors and non-traditional dealers (those without a storefront) could get FFLs, and were subject to the same inspection and storage requirements as dealers with storefronts. So the ATF changed the rules and made it almost impossible for them to get an FFL. They cut the number of licensed dealers by more than 50 percent. But it didn't stop folks from collecting or dealing from non-traditional locations; it just made them harder to regulate.

And just for the record, a federal study showed that less than 1 percent of the bad guys got their guns from private dealers at gun shows. More than 80 percent either bought them off the street, or got a family member to get them one through a legal channel.

After Sandy Hook, the New York Times was really beating the brush to promote gun control. For one of their stories, they had reporters comb through several of the shadier online gun sales sites, and pose as folks wanting to sell guns. They came up with a long list of felons who either tried to buy their guns, or were offering to sell guns. They went to the ATF. The ATF basically said, "YES! this is a problem." And the NYT asked, "How often to you arrest these guys?" And the answer was "never." Why? "We don't have the resources."

The ATF and the anti-gunners have hit this point multiple times: they claim that online gun sales represents a threat to the public. But outfits like Gun Broker have a system set up that follows all of the prevailing laws for transfers. The ones they're talking about are breaking the law, but they don't prosecute them.

To buy a gun from a licensed dealer, you have to fill out a multipage questionnaire, and then submit to a federal background check. The FBI says they have performed more than 200 million background checks and that the process keeps Americans safe because it weeds out the bad guys. But you know how many of those checks actually are rejected? About one-half of one percent. Okay, so they flagged more than a million bad guys, that's still a lot, right? Well, actually, it's about 70,000 a year, because the program has been around for 15 years. That's still a lot. But a large percentage of those are errors, and a quarter of those are appealed and won. But still, they're getting thousands of bad guys off the street, right? Wrong. A federal audit showed that over a two-year period, only 154 were prosecuted. Huh? A program that employs 500 people and costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate resulted in the prosecution of 154 cases? What gives? Well, most of the folks who are flagged in this program are not considered to actually be a danger to the public, and the FBI says it doesn't have the resources to investigate all of them.

There are lots of other examples. But there are two points to be gleaned from all of this.

First, the anti-gunners continually howl for new gun laws to control the behavior of violent criminals, but all evidence shows that the new laws will be both ineffective and unenforced. Their primary impact will be to burden the law-abiding. And I honestly believe that this is what is intended. The more burdensome you can make the process of owning guns, the more you discourage people from owning guns.

Second, the agencies charged with enforcing these laws ignore low-hanging fruit that they claim represents a threat to the public, and yet they engage in high-profile (and highly expensive) operations and stings designed to grab headlines, which ultimately does little to protect the public.

Studies have shown that the two largest sources (comprising 80 percent) of guns for bad guys are straw purchases by family members, or street sales of stolen guns. But when was the last time you heard about a program designed to target either of these sources?

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