LAURINBURG — President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions last month aimed at reducing gun violence.
The plan does not include any new regulations, or an executive order. Rather, the president has directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to “clarify” that anyone “engaged in the business” of selling firearms — even if the seller operates over the Internet or at gun shows — must get a license and conduct background checks.
People that “willfully engages in the business of dealing in firearms without the required license is subject to criminal prosecution and can be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000.
Still those that deal with the issue of guns first-hand question the effectiveness such actions.
“We have tons of gun laws,” Laurinburg Police Chief Darwin Williams said. “The ones we have on the book now are they effective. It’s about effective punishment.”
Williams said the real issue is criminals who gain guns illegally.
“Law abiding citizens buy guns and then criminals go and steal them,” he said. “In some cases, people report them and some don’t. We locate guns and nine times out of 10 it is stolen from another jurisdiction. They come here and sell them.”
Matt Koenig, the owner of King’s Pawn Shop in Laurinburg, said actions like Obama’s may have the opposite effect of what was unintended and embolden criminals.
“Because the criminals will no longer have a fear, because guess what, they know you don’t have a gun,” he said. “Look at Chicago when their gun ban went into effect, rapes, murder crimes went up. The criminals knew the citizens didn’t have weapons.”
Koenig adds that he follows the law and anyone wanting to purchase a gun from him must pass a background check. Background checks are also required for anyone when a person tries to purchase their gun back after pawning.
The reason he explained is, “between you pawning it and two months from now you could have gone to jail for something.”
If that is the case the owner is not eligible to repurchase and the FBI will contact Koenig to get the information about the owner and also make sure he did not sell the gun back to the owner.
“Once that background check is denied, ATF calls me and says you have a firearm, was that transaction processed? They want a phone number, they want that person’s name, want to know where that person lives at. They will go visit that person, how did you have this fire arm?”
Koenig said if someone goes in and he feels they may be under the influence of drugs or make threats to kill someone he does not sell them a weapon.
“I want to know that this person knows what kind of weapon they have. If you spend $500 on a pistol, you’re going to remember it. If the person says I don’t really know what it is, then it is probably not theirs. If they don’t know the value of what that weapon was, there is no way they ever bought it. That’s kind of a qualifying thing.”
The sheriff’s office and police department each get a full description including serial and model number from every ticket.
He added it is a good thing for gun owners to keep their serial numbers handy.
“If it every goes to a pawn shop or a gun store it will be found per the ATF records,” he said.
But not everyone is as diligent as Koenig. The Obama White House argues that too many sellers engaged in the business of selling firearms are purporting to be private sellers in order to avoid the need to be licensed and in turn be required to obtain background checks. The administration says that since 2005, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence, while millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun.
“Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place,” Obama said in a statement.
The administration is also proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care. The Social Security Administration has said that it will begin to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
Conservatives have criticized Obama’s plan as an effort to “take our guns away.”
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson said the president should work with Congress on the issue.
“The president should listen to the American people and work with Congress on reforms that would actually reduce gun violence, like confronting our mental health crisis and preventing criminals and terrorists from entering our country,” Hudson said in a statement. “I have fought the president’s liberal gun control agenda tooth and nail, and I won’t back down now.”
Chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party Mark Schenck called the executive action ineffective.
“None of what Mr. Obama has proposed would have stopped any of the mass shootings. The object of socialists, liberals, progressives or whatever they are called today is to do away with the Second Amendment,” said Schenck.
He added that such measures will profit those that will sell illegal guns along with illegal drugs.
“At a time when ISIS is said to be walking among us, illegal immigrants are crossing our borders with impunity and civil violence is at an all time high, we still have those that would deny you the right to protect yourself and your family.”
Jan Schmidt, a former Scotland County Democrat Party chair, said she is for reasonable gun control measures, something that to her Congress has been too paralyzed to do. She said President Obama wouldn’t have to take executive action if Congress would do more.
“Because they are afraid of the NRA, in spite of members of the NRA being for reasonable gun control. You wouldn’t let anyone drive a car without a license because then it becomes a weapon, why are guns any different?” she asked.
Schmidt is also the president of the Scotland County Democratic Women, but said that she was speaking as a citizen and not for the group.
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.