This morning's Charlotte Observer has a front-page story that may be one of the strongest arguments yet for reforming our gun laws. Late last year, employees of Carolina Sporting Arms in south Charlotte told authorities that one of their customers was buying an unusually large number of AK-47s. It turned out that customer, Michael Beas, had sold dozens of assault weapons without a license from June to November at gun shows in the Carolinas and Georgia. He'd also made a large number of trips to Bolivia, a haven for gun trafficking. Facing decades in prison, Beas is due to plead guilty on Tuesday to one count of dealing firearms without a license. He faces up to five years in prison, or a minimum of two years and eight months under sentencing guidelines. And yet, prosecutors say Beas' case highlights several weaknesses in the current scheme.
Prosecutors said they caught Beas only after Carolina Sporting Arms alerted them.Federal prosecutors still don't know how many guns Beas sold, or the identities of any of his customers. They're particularly concerned about his trips to Bolivia--a major reason he's in jail without bond.
And that, they argue, is the problem: Current gun laws have shortcomings if authorities must rely on tipsters to identify suspicious activity.
Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to perform background checks on buyers, but Beas had a clean record.
Court records did not indicate whether other gun stores Beas used alerted authorities to his purchases.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins told the Observer that one focus for her office is to prosecute people who illegally have firearms, such as convicted felons. Her prosecutors handle about 130 such cases a year.
But prosecuting gun traffickers is rare.
Those cases are difficult to prosecute because there is no limit on how many assault weapons someone can legally buy and no requirement to report those purchases to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency is alerted only to buyers of multiple handguns.
Employees at Carolina Sporting Arms, however, say the system worked the way it was supposed to work. Most honest gun stores train their employees to spot signs that a customer is doing an end run around the law. Store manager Bill Ingram checked his records and determined that Beas was buying way too many AK-47s to be a private seller, as he claimed. But according to prosecutors, Beas bought his guns while traveling from the Carolinas to Miami--which leads you to wonder how many dishonest gun sellers dealt with him.
It seems almost surreal--the ATF can track buyers of handguns, but not assault weapons? And yet, as tough as Dianne Feinstein's proposed law is, it doesn't give the ATF that power. And that doesn't sit well with the U.S. Attorney here in Charlotte, Anne Tompkins.
None of the proposals by Obama or Feinstein include a way to track multiple assault weapons sales. To Tompkins, not having that information hurts her ability to enforce the law.We already know what the NRA's answer to that will be--it's the next step to the federal government taking away our guns. Indeed, Feinstein's proposal for universal background checks, as common-sense as that is, has Carolina Sporting Arms' Ingram nervous. He thinks if that goes through, the next step will be to come after the First Amendment.
“There is no system,” Tompkins said. “In America, we love our individual freedoms. But I think people will be surprised to know that there is no mechanism for law enforcement to track the sale of assault weapons. Law enforcement doesn’t know who is buying numerous military style assault weapons.”
The NRA, as usual, doth protest too much. Like most people here in North Carolina, I believe that there is no reason an honest, law-abiding person can't own a gun. In fact, I support a national right-to-carry law. But simple common sense dictates that if we're going to protect the right of honest people to own guns, we've got to close the loopholes that make it possible for felons and others who have no business having guns to get them. And hopefully it won't take more Adam Lanzas and William Spenglers for that to happen.