Category Archives: The Gun Debate

Murky stats cloud gun control debate over background checks

Do we really know what percentage of guns are purchased without a background check?  

In the wake of the massacre at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school, mandating background checks on all gun sales has been one element of possible reform that has gained momentum. A bill that would create universal background checks is headed to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Here in Washington, an effort for such background checks appears to have stalled, but the debate continues and could be headed for the fall ballot.

Background checks are already conducted when one purchases a gun from a licensed firearm dealer; the legislation federally and at the state level would extend checks to private gun sales.

But how many guns are bought and sold privately?

The number thrown about by politicians is around 40 percent. But an interesting report by the Associated Press out today shows that statistic is stale.

From AP:

The claims that gun sales made without background checks comprise “more than,” ”as many as,” ”nearly” or “about” 40 percent of all gun sales are rooted in a poll looking broadly at gun ownership in America. Sponsored by the Justice Department through a grant to the Police Foundation, the poll’s principal relevance today is as a snapshot of the way things were when it was taken — 1994.

The research reported on the nature of gun acquisitions made in 1993 and 1994, asking people who had obtained guns then where the guns had come from and whether they thought the source was a federally licensed dealer. Transactions through licensed dealers were considered covered by the background check system, which was just then coming into effect.

Although the survey interviewed more than 2,500 Americans, just 251 had acquired guns during that time frame, a small sampling from which to make a general conclusion.

AP goes on to say that the “study’s researchers found considerable ambiguity and some apparent contradictions in the responses.”

“With a clear picture eluding them, they estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of the acquisitions were off the books and would not have been subjected to a background check,” AP said.

So the bottom line is we really don’t know how many people buy guns through private sales. Some data would certainly help.

But perhaps the numbers aren’t needed at all. Just because they pass a bill doesn’t mean criminals won’t get their hands on guns, some say; tighter regulations via background checks could thwart some guns from falling into the wrong hands, others insist.

Where do you fall?

Washington bucks national trend: gun deaths here outnumber traffic fatalities

Awhile back, Bloomberg published a startling story that revealed the likelihood deaths by firearms in America would soon outnumber traffic fatalities

After doing some digging today, I figured out that Washington state has already turned that corner. In fact, it did so in 2008 (see below). Traffic fatalities numbered 454 in the state in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Deaths caused by firearms were higher, at 619 — 492 of which were suicides — according to the state’s Department of Health.

I would credit this trend in part to the state’s nation-leading seat belt use (98 percent). The average for the country is just 84 percent. As for gun deaths, I’ll leave that discussion for now but feel free to make your voice heard below.

Here are the rest of the stats for Washington:

Gun deaths                   Traffic fatalities

2006                619                                  633

2007                544                                  571

2008                583                                  521

2009                618                                   492

2010                 607                                  460

2011                 619                                  454


Should medical marijuana patients be allowed to have guns?

More and more people in Washington are going and getting their medical marijuana authorizations. Indeed, around the country, 16 states now allow people with qualifying conditions to possess marijuana, despite its longstanding federal prohibition.

That hasn’t stopped federal agencies from chiming in over medical marijuana issues. The latest blowup concerns a medical marijuana patient’s right to bear arms.

A memo to federal firearms licensees from the assistant director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is lucid in its belief medical marijuana patients are prohibited from having guns, according to a recent article in USA Today.

The memo states, “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

I’m interested to hear from folks on the Kitsap peninsula regarding this topic. Should having a medical marijuana authorization prohibit someone from having guns?

Should permitted gun owners be allowed to carry state to state?

Washingtonians who have a license to carry a concealed gun know well that packing heat in any other state requires an education of that state’s unique laws.  

A bill introduced in Congress could change that, according to the Wall Street Journal:

“Congressional lawmakers yesterday heard testimony on a federal bill that would give Americans who hold permits to carry firearms in their home states the right to carry their weapons across state lines,” wrote Nathan Koppel on the WSJ’s law blog.

“The sponsors of the legislation, dubbed the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, maintain that people’s Second Amendment rights should encompass the right to carry their firearms outside their home states,” he added.

Here’s the legalese of the law would allow:

Notwithstanding any provision of the law of any State or political subdivision thereof, related to the carrying or transportation of firearms, a person who is not prohibited by Federal law from possessing, transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm, and who is carrying a government-issued photographic identification document and a valid license or permit which is issued pursuant to the law of a State and which permits the person to carry a concealed firearm, may carry a concealed handgun (other than a machinegun or destructive device) that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, in any State, other than the State of residence of the person, that–

‘(1) has a statute that allows residents of the State to obtain licenses or permits to carry concealed firearms; or

‘(2) does not prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms by residents of the State for lawful purposes.

About one in 27 people in Washington carry a concealed gun. Would you support such a new law,  readers? And why or why not?

Salt Lake Tribune Follows up Walmart Gun Origin Story

The Salt Lake Tribune published Monday a followup to the story we wrote regarding the origin of the gun used by a Utah man at the Port Orchard Walmart in January.

From reporter Nate Carlisle’s story:

The sale of a gun used by a felon to kill a 13-year-old Utah girl and wound two sheriff’s deputies in Washington state earlier this year highlights the ambiguities associated with private firearms transactions.

Anthony A. Martinez already had at least three felony convictions when he purchased the .40-caliber Glock from a former Utah police cadet, according to Utah court records and documents released by prosecutors in Kitsap, Wash.

The felonies prevented Martinez from buying a gun from a licensed dealer. But the law gets trickier when there’s a transaction between two individuals.

Private parties selling guns are not required to conduct a background check on the buyer. But if the seller knows the buyer is prohibited from possessing a firearm, or reasonably should know, then the seller just committed a felony under federal law.

There is no evidence the sale to Martinez was illegal, nor was there evidence anyone was investigating.

Carlisle also attempted to contact the man who bought the gun originally and the man who sold it to Martinez. But neither attempt was successful.

Hauge Responds to the ‘Narrative’ About Gun Club Lawsuit

On Sunday, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge wrote what he called “my response to the ‘narrative’ that has been created about recent actions by my office.” He posted a five-point post to his Facebook page.

On Sunday, we ran two pieces about the county’s lawsuit against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, which you can read here and here. Also, here’s a link to our overall coverage of the suit. And some of the points he makes were already addressed in a previous story.

Here’s Hauge’s post:

Please consider this my response to the “narrative” that has been created about recent actions by my office.  I am responsible for those actions and it is fair that I be judged on them.  However, the basis for that judgment should be fact—not a construct created to further a political agenda.

Fact One:  I am not anti-gun.  No one has asked me about this directly.  The truth is that I own many firearms, mostly handguns, and have shot them regularly since I was a child.  I hunt occasionally and practice with my handguns as often as I can.  Usually I use the indoor range at “The Marksman” in Puyallup.

Fact Two: I have no personal grudge against Marcus Carter.  Indeed, before we learned he was manufacturing machine guns I regularly assisted him in his firearm safety classes.  I taught the lesson about firearms and the law.  In those classes, I tried to make this one point above all: The constitution of the State of Washington unambiguously grants its citizens the right to bear arms in defense of themselves and their homes; however, that right carries with it great responsibilities.  The statutes of the State of Washington spell out the rules for the possession and use of firearms.  My office will support lawful use and respond immediately and firmly to unlawful use.

Fact Three:  My office has not repeatedly prosecuted Mr. Carter.  There is one pending action.  Twice Kitsap County Superior Court judges, using different reasons, have prevented us from taking the case to a jury.  Twice, the next higher court, the Court of Appeals, has said they were wrong and sent the case back for trial.  There is nothing extraordinary about our office appealing a ruling of the superior court.  Judges can make mistakes, and an appeal is the mechanism to correct their errors.  We are pursuing this not because I hate guns, but because machine guns are inherently dangerous and we think the law is clear.  A local judge has blocked the trial yet again on a new theory raised just before trial.  We have again appealed and expect the case to be sent back for trial sometime this year.  But appellate courts keep their own schedule; that’s why it’s taken so long.  We will pursue this prosecution.  There is no question that Mr. Carter manufactured and possessed a machine gun.  The reports are part of the public record.  There is a video tape of the weapon firing on full auto that no news agency has ever asked to see.  My office cannot ignore this clear violation of the law.  To do so would be to effectively authorize the manufacture and possession of machine guns in our community.  If that is to be the rule, it should be established by the legislature or the courts.  Thus far, the court that counts, the Court of Appeals, has agreed with us.

Fact Four:  Our goal has never been to close the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club.  Our position is set forth in a letter we sent to the club in May of this year.   We’ve provided more than one copy of this letter to every local news  outlet, but no one has seen fit to print it.  It is posted on our portion of the County’s website ( Complaint, beginning on pg. 72).  It is an attachment to the core document in this suit, the Complaint.  In summary our position has been that we have credible information that the Club may have violated variety of permitting, zoning, and environmental laws.  It is our job to address those concerns.  We have asked the Club’s cooperation in resolving these issues but received no helpful response.  Very recently, credible information came to us that there may be significant safety concerns.  By all reports, the range officers at the club do an outstanding job.  Every shooter is made to follow appropriate procedures.  But the day-to-day operation of the ranges is not the issue.  The concerns arise from the layout of the ranges themselves.  There are standards in the shooting industry to address these issues.  They exist to ensure peaceful co-existence of gun clubs with their neighbors.  The Club’s facilities have expanded beyond those that existed when it was “grandfathered” into the current zoning code.  This expansion makes those industry standards relevant.  Like the machine gun case, my office would be giving its approval to what might well be law violations affecting public safety if we ignored this situation.

Fact Five:  The land use action concerning the club did not spring up just in time for me to use it in a political campaign.  The dialog between the regulatory agencies, the Club, and the surrounding property owners has been going on for years (The Mount Document, photos 1994-2009 pgs 20, 67, 71 and 73).  It was filed now because the Club leadership has refused to engage in that dialog in any kind of constructive manner.   Indeed, it is just as reasonable to assume that the Club orchestrated this crisis to coincide with the upcoming election.  As I’ve said before, I certainly recognize that I’m not doing my reelection campaign any good by filing this action now.

Prosecutors do not—and should not—have the authority pick and choose among the laws they are sworn to enforce.  We do indeed have to make choices about how to expend our resources, but those choices should be guided by principle.  I have been advised that the politically expedient thing to do would be to look the other way and in effect authorize the manufacture of machine guns and the violation of our community’s environmental and zoning protections.  Certainly that’s the consensus in the blogosphere.  But that’s not how it works.  The prosecutor’s first duty is not to hew to any party line or even to get reelected.  The prosecutor’s job is to enforce the law as best they can.  That’s all I’m trying to do.

Russ Hauge

Self Defense ‘A Tricky Thing’

A fatal shooting over the weekend has generated much discussion on our web site’s comment threads about when self defense is appropriate under the law. Here’s one opinion, from commenter robodrill:

“yes. washingtonians are allowed to shoot fleeing attackers.
if the guy’s story is true, he is innocent.”

I thought it’d be good to consult a lawyer who knows first hand how self defense works in court. Here to give us his analysis — free of any scrutinizing of the current case — is frequent Crime and Justice blog contributor and Bremerton attorney Stan Glisson:

“The statute (9A.16.020) tells us that force is not unlawful “Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary”.
Homicide, specifically, is justified in the eyes of the law when committed either:

(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or

(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he is. (9A.16.050).

Anyone accused of an assault-type crime can assert that it was done in defense of themselves, of others, or of their property.  Once the defendant raises self defense, the burden shifts to the state to disprove it; in other words, lack of self defense becomes an element the state has to prove. In general, there is no duty to retreat. The defendant can resort to use of force in self defense as long as the defendant had a legal right to be in the place where force was used.  Also, a defendant cannot claim self defense if the defendant created the situation that cause the need for defense. In other words, a person can’t provoke a fight, then claim he or she needed to use force in self defense.
Self defense is a complete defense because it negates the element of intent.  It is a dangerous defense, because the accused basically waives any defense that they didn’t commit the crime: instead, they are arguing that it was justified. You can’t simultaneously argue ‘I didn’t do it’ and ‘I only did it because..’
If a defendant succeeds in presenting self defense, it is possible to recover from the charging entity (state or city) all costs they incurred as a result of the charge. That can be attorney’s fees, lost wages, etc. Basically the jury has said that what they did was permissible, so they should not have had to incur those costs.
The fear of injury justifying self defense is evaluated in terms of the subjective experience of the defendant.  The court must instruct the jury to evaluate the claim of self defense in light of all the circumstances known to the defendant.  Jurors are instructed to place themselves in the defendant’s shoes at the time of the alleged crime, considering what he was experiencing and what was known to him about the victim at the time. So, if there is past knowledge that makes the shooter’s decision more or less understandable, the jury is entitled to hear about that. That can result in the trial being a lot more about the prior history of the victim than would normally be allowed in a trial.
Self defense is a tricky thing. The defendant needs to have ‘clean hands’ for the jury to sympathize with his or her position. They have to relate to why he or she felt that there was no other reasonable option. And the more force was used, the more the jury has to agree with that decision. The defendant’s testimony is very important, as is the perception of the seriousness of the danger they were facing.”

This is For Real: Tot, 2 Shoots Tot, 2

I could hardly believe the story my editor, Kim Rubenstein, showed me this morning.

It comes to us from Timson, Texas, where the Associated Press is reporting that a 2-year-old child accidentally shot another 2-year-old.

Thankfully, the 2-year-old that was shot is recovering at a local hospital. But how on earth, we wonder, can a 2-year-old fire a gun?

I suppose it’s possible. Seems unlikely though.

Also interesting that AP notes: The investigation into possible criminal charges continues.

Fight over Gun Rights Hinges not just on Second Amendment


(Blogger’s note: To read earlier analysis and stories on the gun debate, click here. Please feel free to take the poll to the right of this page as well.)

The next “battlefield” over gun rights in America might not revolve around the second amendment, but rather its counterpart eight amendments down the page on the Bill of Rights.

Not familiar with the 10th Amendment? Here’s a quick refresher by way of Wikipedia:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In the current issue of Time, Reporter Hilary Hylton dissects moves in several states to establish their own regulation on gun manufacturers, in an effort to circumvent the federal ones. Most recently, Montana passed a law to use its own regulations as long as the weapon was made in “Big Sky Country,” and it is kept for use therein.

Hylton reports that it’s likely the 10th Amendment debate will be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Gun Debate Reloads

handgun.jpeg(Blogger’s note: To read earlier analysis and stories on the gun debate, click here. Please feel free to take the poll to the right of this page as well.)

There are those who believe more guns equal more crime. And those who believe more guns equal less crime. Both sides are armed with statistics and rhetoric they’ll readily share.

I’ve said this before. But now, the gun debate —thanks to some horrifying incidents around the country, Mexico’s drug war, a recession, a Democrat in office and an increase in the number of concealed pistol licenses — has again emerged front and center.

Last year, the conversation revolved around school shootings in the wake of tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. This year, it has spread to all aspects of American life.

Our area has also seen such tragedy with guns. Remember in 2005 when a shooter opened fire on a crowd at the Tacoma Mall?

Lest we forget, in 2008, there were, in total, about 258,000 people in the state who can choose to carry a hidden lethal weapon on their person, according to the Department of Licensing.

Rather than ask the ageold question about gun control (take the poll on the right for that), I’ll ask this: in the wake of new developments in the gun debate, has your view changed?