Buried in the news two weeks ago about 14 valley residents being arrested on suspicion of distributing drugs, authorities noted that the alleged dealers also were trading in guns. According to police, undercover agents bought an assault rifle and a .38-caliber pistol from the suspects, besides personal quantities of recreational drugs like cocaine and ecstasy.
The suspects are in trouble for the drugs. Selling guns, however, on the secondary market, even under the sketchiest circumstances, is completely legal.
There is something very wrong with this picture.
Colorado law requires some documentation for firearm purchases made from gun shops or gun shows, but those rules don’t apply if those guns are resold. There also is no requirement that gun owners in this state obtain a permit — unless they would like to carry the firearm on their person outside the home — or otherwise register the weapon with authorities. There’s no difference in the state’s eyes between buying a used pair of skis off of the guy on the street, or an AR-15 military-style assault rifle.
This bizarre circumstance puts into sharp relief the absurdity surrounding the way we deal with guns in this society. If you buy a car, you must pass a driving test, register and insure it before you can use it. Most communities require dog owners to get a license for their animals. The government similarly regulates financial markets, because of the potential for abuse and fraud with stocks and bonds.
But something as lethal as guns, designed to inflict maximum hurt on their targets no matter the intention of the shooter, escape the oversight they deserve, thanks mainly to politics. We find it beyond ironic and strange that in a press conference last week in the wake of the horrific school shootings in Connecticut, the head of the National Rifle Association would suggest the need for a national database of mentally ill people, while the organization’s raison d’etre is to oppose such a list of gun owners.
We are all sullen with disbelief at the horrible acts committed by madmen with guns this month — first in Oregon, then Connecticut, and now with the newest deranged act when two volunteer firefighters were killed after being lured into a trap in western New York state. Our own state was hit this summer when something as simple and carefree as going to a movie turned into a killing field, because someone who should never have been near semi-automatic weapons too easily was able to get their hands on them.
We applaud Pitkin County commissioner George Newman who last week asked that the local government write a letter to state legislators and congressional delegates asking for new gun control laws. The letter will ask the delegates to move forward with legislation in Colorado that would reinstate a ban on assault weapons, limit the capacity of magazines, include background checks on sales in gun shows, and increase public support and funding of mental health programs.
We will never get all guns off the street, and that’s not the goal. But something has to give. Something has to change in our society, which glorifies indiscriminate killing in the movies and in video games, and then makes it too easy for life to imitate art. In this case, we think different messaging and stronger laws would be an important first step in the right direction of making gun violence something that is not seen as a condition of life in America.
More hurdles must be put up between the manufacturers of these instruments of death and the general public. We see no compelling reason why the government should not ban the military-style assault weapons that have no place in civilized society, as well as armor-piercing bullets and high-capacity magazines. We recognize that most gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens, and we do not wish to infringe on their constitutional rights. But for heaven’s sake, close these ridiculous loopholes that make it legal to buy an assault rifle from a street-corner drug dealer, and require people who wish to purchase such weapons to declare so publicly, so they can be screened for whether they can handle the responsibility.