The Washington Post’s blow-up of how local and national gun laws wreak havoc on the D.C. area’s eastern environs is exactly what we need large journalism outfits for.
The project used an array of resources to circumvent a 2003 law that barred federal gun-tracing data from public view. Post writers filed Freedom of Information Act requests and buckled down into serious database analysis, eventually coming to the conclusion that just a few gun shops, most notably Realco, located in District Heights, are responsible for a large statistically significant amount of guns used in crimes in Prince George’s and D.C.
The project exposes so many problems in our country’s gun laws that it is difficult to know what the primary takeaway is.
1. The District’s strict gun laws can only do so much. Just a mile over the District’s borders it is possible for a straw buyer (middleman willing to undergo background checks) to purchase a gun that can quickly be dispatched into the underground arms economy. As long as the straw buyer has a clean record and can keep a straight face in the store, current laws cannot prevent criminals from getting someone else to buy them guns.
2. Though Realco’s guns were connected to at least 86 homicides in Prince George’s and D.C. since the mid ’90s, the company follows the law. The owners of Realco did not make comments to The Post on the investigation and this was not the first time a Post investigation scorched Realco. Though the gun seller’s sales can be tied to so many gun crimes, there is nothing within current gun laws local police can do about it. Everyone agrees Realco is not at fault.
3. If we want an honest portrait of the relationship between guns and crime, the 2003 amendment ending gun tracing must go. The Post’s investigation is noble, but they admit their data aren’t perfect. How could they be? The paper was piecing together thousands of scraps to create a detailed picture of D.C. and Prince George’s gun problems. Here are some of the disclaimer’s in the Post report: Not all incidents are shown; Gun recovery logs in the District are from 1992 to 2009; Prince George’s County logs are from 1994-2010. State records include guns sold since 1985; Note about 700 gun crimes could not be mapped. A for-profit news entity is not the proper stenographer for this information.
4. Our state borders are meaningless. We all cross the borders between Va., Md. and D.C. daily. The laws — for guns, alcohol and even cell phones — are amazingly different just miles apart. Because of D.C.’s unique legal status, even other tri-state areas like Philly and NYC don’t have the border-hopping problem to the same extent as Washington. Could a stronger regional government be the answer to uniformly adapting and enforcing laws specifically for the DMV?
5. Some imaginary borders are important. The Post mapped 1,814 of the 2,534 “crime guns” traced back to Realco over the previously mentioned time period. Not one was west of Rock Creek Park in D.C. That is stunning.
Usually when I come away from a read with more questions than answers, it is an unsatisfactory feeling. But nobody has the answers. That is what is frightening.