The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a good story today that illustrates both how the current gun control regime is failing and how more strict gun bans actually can prevent gun violence.
It is a story about how Christian Philip Oberender was able to obtain an arsenal eighteen years after killing his mother with a shotgun. Oberender was fourteen at the time. He was convicted, determined mentally incompetent, treated, and released.
In theory, he should not have been able to purchase firearms through legal channels at all, but…
What Olson’s deputies found in the home was chilling: 13 guns, including semi-automatic rifles, an AK-47, a Tommy gun, assorted shotguns and handguns, including a .50-caliber Desert Eagle. Star-Tribune
He got a permit to purchase firearms by falsifying the information on his application. Police are supposed to verify someone’s identity, but they cannot require a social security number or fingerprints. If they do not confirm someone’s identity in seven days a permit is issued anyway. As for how mental health reporting makes it into the screening database … well, no one seems to have bothered to think through what information should be required and who will be responsible for collecting it.
Contributing to this problem are state and federal laws protect the revolutionary spirit of the Second Amendment. The “Firearm Owners Protection Act” of 1986 forbids the creation of government registration systems. Federal appropriations bills also ban spending money on centralizing or consolidating gun ownership records.
These laws are specifically designed to obfuscate who owns what weapons from government authorities under the assumption that armed revolt may someday be necessary. But as a side effect they also make it extremely difficult to trace weapons used in criminal activity.
As for centralized background checks, it’s a nice idea but Minnesota is not the only state with a database full of holes. On January 16, the Wall Street Journal reported on the condition of national and state-level background-check databases:
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which federally licensed firearm dealers must use to check the credentials of potential gun buyers, doesn’t include millions of people legally barred from owning guns, researchers and advocates say. Fourteen states list fewer than five people flagged for mental-health issues. Wall Street Journal
Again, the problem here is a combination of lax reporting and laws that specifically prohibit information-sharing.
One thing did work, however, illustrating in the process how general firearms bans might be more effective. The argument against them has always been that determined people will still find a way to buy firearms. Oberender demonstrates that this is already the case. Although it seems that one does not have to be too determined, since the gun laws are written to make it easy to go around them.
But acquisition is only one step; there is also storage, transport, and use of the firearms. Oberender failed the storage part: he posted photographs of his firearms collection to Facebook and Sheriff Jim Olson saw them. According to the Star-Tribune, Olson knew Oberender was not supposed to have the firearms because Olson was the detective that put Oberender behind bars in the first place.
The advantage of banning guns as opposed to banning a specific individual’s ownership of guns is that anyone seeing Oberender’s collection would have been suspicious and had the opportunity to report him to the police. Right now, an legally-purchased assault rifle is legal until it is misused, so seeing one is not evidence of a crime.
That means in the absence of Olson’s knowledge that it was a federal crime specifically for Oberender to have those firearms, Oberender’s collection would have been unmolested until the day he chose to use them. Which, based on writing found along with the guns, he may have been working himself up to do.