With gun control off the political agenda in Washington, the Police Executive Research Forum took the rather bold step in mid-November of convening a “summit” on guns with a large group of police chiefs and representatives of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. PERF director Chuck Wexler did his homework, commissioning a survey showing that availability of crime guns is up in many big cities.
A succession of police chiefs told of gun problems in their cities, citing easy availability of firearms. Wexler showed an undercover video from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggesting that many dealers at gun shows (where background checks are not required) would sell to just about anyone.
The discussion concluded that gun crime remains a problem in many cities even if overall crime rates have stabilized or dropped.
The question is whether much more is likely to be done about it in the near term. Many Democrats have decided that gun control is a losing issue for them, and President Obama has quashed talk of reviving the expired ban on assault weapons. Still, gun and ammunition sales boom amid fears that the Democrats may change their minds and return to a gun control stance.
No formal votes were taken at the summit, but just about everyone who spoke agreed that firearms laws already the books should be enforced more strongly. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is yet to have an Obama-nominated director, has budgetary and legal limitations on how much more active it can get.
Under prodding from Wexler, the NRA and National Shooting Sports Federation, which was also represented at the meeting, agreed with police chiefs and the Brady Campaign that there should be stiffer penalties on “straw purchasers” of firearms–those who acquire guns for those legally barred from obtaining them.
Wexler declared that just getting many of the interested parties in the same room was a sign of progress. With the Supreme Court poised to issue another ruling against gun bans next year, it seems that gun control is not likely to top the national agenda again any time soon. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said a top priority now should be for police and others to “make the case to the community” that the culture that encourages people to resolve seemingly any dispute by gunfire must stop.