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November 17, 2008

“I don’t keep a gun in my house, because I value my life.”

In August we blogged about an article in Esquire that looked into the background of Steven Kazmierczak, the grad student who shot and killed six people (including himself) and wounded 18 others at Northern Illinois University on February 14, 2008. The author of the article, David Vann, debunked the media’s simplistic portrayal of Kazmierczak as “an award-winning sociology student and a leader of a campus criminal justice group” who presented “no red flags.” Vann’s research uncovered something strikingly different—a young man with a lengthy and disturbing history of mental illness and volatile behavior.

Vann’s latest work, Legend of a Suicide, is a collection of stories and a novella that explores a more personal topic—the death of his father. Vann’s semi-autobiographical account—which incorporates both metaphor and allegory—is being published this month and has already garnered substantial praise. The book received the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler commented, “This is one of the most striking fictional debuts in recent memory.” Legend of a Suicide can be purchased through the University of Massachusetts Press website.

The young character at the center of Legend, “Roy,” shares a passion for firearms with his father. Vann confirms that this is based on truth: “I grew up in a hunting and fishing family in Alaska and rural northern California, so I was shooting guns at an early age. I was given a pump pellet gun at age 7, a 20-gauge shotgun at age 8, and a Winchester .30-.30 rifle—like in the westerns—at age 9. When I was 11 years old, I killed my first two deer with that Winchester. California law said I had to wait until I was 13 to legally kill a buck, but family law said 11, and killing my first buck included eating the heart and liver.”

Recalling his Esquire article about Steven Kazmierczak, Vann drew parallels between himself and the troubled student: Kazmierczak was trained by the U.S. Army not to have any emotional or psychological response to killing a human being. In the shooting at Northern Illinois University, he killed without any sign of emotion at all…and I do think that hunting trained me in a similar way. We killed everything that moved in Alaska or California, hundreds of animals. The second deer I shot, at age 11, was paralyzed, hit in the spine. My father made me walk up behind it and put the .30-.30 rifle to the back of its head to finish it off, execution style. I still find that tremendously upsetting.”

Vann also remembers his father owning a .300 magnum rifle (for hunting bears) and a .44 magnum pistol. The .44 was kept under the seat of his father’s car for personal protection. Tragically, instead of being used for self-defense, Vann’s father used the handgun to take his own life. “I saw that guns are simply too powerful, too easily misused,” Vann recalls. “My father’s .44 magnum pistol had a hair trigger. I had fired it once, and it went off before I expected it to, with just a faint touch.” Vann is also cognizant of research that shows that many gun suicides are attempted in the heat of the moment, without significant premeditation: “When I think of my father sitting at his kitchen table in Fairbanks, Alaska, alone, with the gun to his head, it bothers me that he only had to want suicide for an instant. It’s just too fast and too easy, and there’s no turning back.”

Nor was this his family’s only tragic experience with gun violence: My stepmother lost her parents to a murder/suicide. Her mother killed her father with a shotgun and then killed herself with a pistol. They were a wealthy couple with a large house on a hill overlooking an entire valley in California. Their lives should have been considered good, but in a moment of anger, guns made killing very easy and quick.”

Ironically, Vann would inherit his father’s gun collection after his suicide. Instead of using these firearms solely to hunt, however, he capitalized on the opportunity to blow off steam and avoid dealing with complicated emotions like shame and rage. “I learned to break the .300 magnum rifle into several parts and stuff them down the back of my jacket,” he remembers. “I’d ride my bicycle into the hills above my suburban Californian neighborhood and shoot out streetlights from hundreds of yards away. That rifle sounded like artillery, but I was never caught.” More ominously, Vann notes: “I also sighted in on our neighbors in the afternoons and evenings, right from my bedroom. I had a shell in the chamber and the safety off, and I’d be looking at someone’s face through the crosshairs as they stood in front of a living room window. I was a straight-A student, would become valedictorian, was in student government, sports, band, etc. No one would have guessed I was living a double life.”

But Vann says that his fascination with firearms is now a thing of the past: “It’s extremely rare that anyone is able to defend their life or the lives of their loved ones with a firearm. If you don’t do drugs or engage in crime, you’re unlikely to ever confront a gun. The only way you’re really put into an increased level of danger is if you own a gun. I don’t keep a gun in my house, because I value my life.”

Vann also has some important advice for families dealing with issues of depression: “One of the most critical steps is to ask for outside help. Right before his suicide, my father convinced our family that he was fine. He sounded reasonable and clear-headed. Professional help, from a therapist or psychiatrist, is necessary.”

It’s been 28 years since Vann’s father’s suicide, so he’s had the time and distance to transform family tragedy into art. The stories in Legend of a Suicide are simply beautiful, reinventing a terrible past and making sense out of chaos.


  1. Vann obviously did not do his homework. If he did, he would learn that self defense with a firearm is far more common then homicide or suicide with one.

    According to a 1993 study by the DOJ, citizens use guns for self defense almost 83,000 times per year, which is over twice the number of homicides and suicides by firearm combined.


    Bottom line, if he does not want to keep a gun in his house, that is his right. No pro-gun rights group or individual will try to force him to do so. But he has no right to try to prevent others from doing so, and his implicit claim that people who keep guns, the best tool in the world for self defense, do not value their lives, is irresponsible, hateful, and wrong.

  2. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. The DOJ study you cite reported 83,000 annual defensive gun uses from 1987-1992. During the same period, however, there were more than 135,000 total gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. annually (CDC data).

    The DOJ study also noted that "In most cases victims who used firearms to defend themselves or their property were confronted by offenders who were either unarmed or armed with weapons other than firearms." Specifically, only 35% of those who used a firearm in self-defense actually faced an offender who had a gun. DOJ made no judgments in the study on whether the level of force employed by these individuals was appropriate or consonant with the threat they faced. It may very well be that the presence of firearms in many of these incidents escalated what otherwise might have been non-violent (or non-fatal) encounters.

    According to the DOJ study, gun owners also provided criminals with ample opportunities to arm themselves through firearm theft: "From 1987-1992 victims reported an annual average of about 341,000 incidents of firearm theft. Because the NCVS asks for types but not a count of items stolen, the annual total of firearms stolen probably exceeds the number of incidents." It should also be noted that there is no federal law requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and almost no state laws in this regard. There are undoubtedly thousands of stolen firearms that go unreported every year. - CSGV

  3. Thanks for responding. I was only comparing firearm self defense to gun homicide and suicide, not injuries. If you don't inflate your numbers by adding injuries, you can see that my original point: That firearm self defense is way more common then gun homicide or suicide, still stands

    I'm not sure what your point was when you said "In most cases victims who used firearms to defend themselves or their property were confronted by offenders who were either unarmed or armed with weapons other than firearms." As anyone with firearms experience knows, the purpose of using a gun for self defense is not just to defend yourself from other people with guns. It is to defend against the imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm, which can be inflicted by a criminal armed with a weapon other then a firearm, or with no weapon at all. Therefore, the fact the many cases of armed self defense are not against criminals with guns is not, in any conceivable way, an indicator that such cases were unjustified, inapropriate, or disproportionate to the threat perceived.

    Also, there is another thing about the DOJ study I forgot to mention. It reported that "A fifth of the victims defending themselves with a firearm
    suffered an injury, compared to almost half of those who defended
    themselves with weapons other than a firearm or who had no weapon." This backs up my original claim that firearms are the best self-defense tools in the world.

    There is also no evidence whatsoever that thousands of firearms that are stolen go unreported, because lawful gun owners have no reason not to report firearm theft. I assure you, if my guns were stolen, I would report them immediately, since I don't want them to be used in crimes and if they are ever found, I want them returned. I'm sure all other lawful owners feel the same way.

    Finally, I'm not sure what your point about stolen guns is. The response to stolen guns is not to punish the victim by depriving them of their right to bear arms, it is to prosecute the offender and recomend safety precautions the victim could take to prevent theft, without trying to prevent actual ownership. If someone said the best way to prevent auto theft was to prevent lawful citizens from owning cars, I doubt he would be taken seriously. Stating the best way to prevent gun theft is by banning guns is no less absurd.

  4. Thanks for your follow-up comment, staplegunkid9. We’d disagree with you about firearm injuries. Those who are shot and survive have to live with significant trauma—both physical and psychological—and that data is certainly relevant in this discussion.

    You noted that “the fact that many cases of armed self defense are not against criminals with guns is not, in any conceivable way, an indicator that such cases were unjustified, inappropriate, or disproportionate to the threat perceived.” DOJ, however, provides us with no interpretation as to whether the reported self-defensive gun uses were appropriate or not. What we do know, statistically, is that 65% of the reported defensive gun uses were against criminals who did not have a gun. It is likely that, in at least some of these cases, a gun was not necessary for self-defense.

    Our point about lost and stolen guns is that guns that are purchased and owned for self-defense frequently end up in the hands of criminals. And while we appreciate your assertion that you would report lost or stolen firearms to the authorities, there are very few laws on the books requiring gun owners to do so. Furthermore, we know of no pro-gun organizations in this country (the National Rifle Association included) that support the implementation of such laws. In the current debate in Pennsylvania, the gun lobby has frequently claimed that such laws would unfairly punish law-abiding gun owners (an argument we have yet to see any justification for). That argument was cited in another recent Bullet Counter Points blog.

    Finally, we’re not sure what you’re referring to with your comment about “banning guns.” Nothing of the sort was suggested in this blog. A policy requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms would not prevent any law-abiding citizen from owning a gun. In fact, it would reinforce that right by assisting law enforcement in tracking down their weapons. - CSGV

  5. There are many good reasons for opposing laws that criminalize victims of gun theft for not reporting their guns stolen when the police don't believe it was reported fast enough (That's the what laws that require citizens to report guns lost or stolen actually do)

    First of all, such laws are not needed. There is no evidence whatsoever that lawful gun owners routinely fail to report to authorities when their guns are stolen. After all, why wouldn't they? No lawful gun owner would benefit from not reporting the thefts, and not reporting them would almost ensure they would never get their valuable property back. Therefore, these laws are a solution to a problem that does not exist. When lawful gun owners are the victims of theft, they report it without coercion from the law.

    Also such laws could actually DISCOURAGE gun owners from reporting thefts, because they could face criminal charges if the police or prosecutors believe the owner did not report the theft fast enough. With no way to prove when the theft took place, it would be completely up to the police or prosecutor to decide if the victim is telling the truth. Also, a gun owner with a large collection might not notice a theft for several days, and by the time he found out, he might be past the required deadline and could face criminal charges for reporting the theft too late. This law would put all theft victims at risk for prosecution, and thus would discourage some from making any report at all to avoid the risk.

    Finally, these laws would only effect lawful gun owners who are crime victims. It would not effect illegal traffickers or people who illegally posses guns. This is because they are already commiting serious crimes with their guns, thus they would not be deterred by the possibility of an additional charge (usually just a minor fine) if they were ever caught.

    To sum it all up, laws that punish gun theft victims for not reporting to the police would be just as bad as laws that would punish rape victims for not reporting their attackers (note that in cases of rape, there actually is evidence that many are not reported, unlike gun thefts). While the intentions of the law may be good, the real world effects of it would be uniformly negative. It would not result in an increase of reports to the police, nor influence criminals that already have no regard for the law. It would only discourage citizens from making reports to authorities out of fear of wrongful prosecution and serve to further punish crime victims a second time.

  6. The number of people who use firearms without actually pulling the trigger for self-defense is more likely to be over 2 million times a year. The reason its not known is that people DON'T report it.

    CSGV should do a poll on how many gun owner's used a firearm without pulling the trigger for self-defense. Just "showing" a firearm will turn criminal's away in search of finding easier targets. If gun owner's DID report everytime they used a firearm for self-defense, where they DIDN'T pull the trigger and merely showed or displayed the firearm, the police would be so overwhelmed to where they would reduce responding to it to just a phone call or even sending an email to police HQ about what happend. Do you really want the police to be bogged down MORE than they are now?

  7. Thanks for your comment, Rudy. You seem to be making a reference to the 1992 survey by Dr. Gary Kleck of Florida State University. His estimate of 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGUs) per year by “law-abiding” citizens in the United States is greatly at odds with other estimates. Kleck conducted his survey over the telephone and did not require respondents to tie a DGU to a threatened, attempted or completed victimization involving a crime (i.e., rape, robbery, assault, burglary,larceny, motor vehicle theft, etc.).

    The National Research Council reported that Dr. Kleck's 2.5 million DGU estimate appeared to be exaggerated and that it was almost certain that "some of what respondents designate[d] as their own self-defense would be construed as aggression by others" (Understanding and Preventing Violence, 266, Albert J. Reiss, Jr. & Jeffrey A. Roth, eds., 1992).

    For that reason, we're fairly certain that law enforcement across the country would be interested in knowing when individuals in their communities are brandishing guns at others, whether this "overwhelms" them or not. - CSGV

  8. thestaplegunkid9, you have asserted that gun owners always report lost or stolen firearms to the police, but law enforcement authorities have concluded just the opposite. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): “Figures on stolen firearms are subject to the usual problems associated with determining whether a firearm has been stolen, due to the fact that most gun owners do not report stolen firearms to the police” (“Following the Gun,” p. 54).

    You also seem to be suggesting that the typical 72-hour reporting requirement for lost and stolen guns is some type of undue burden. How so? Shouldn’t even a gun owner with a “large collection” be responsible for preventing others from gaining unauthorized access to the firearms in his possession? In any case, do you have any evidence that the states that have passed such laws (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island) have prosecuted genuine law-abiding citizens for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm a few days late? We can’t find a single example of such a case.

    This argument also completely contradicts your original assertion that you would report your own lost or stolen guns “immediately.” Is this because you do not have a “large collection” of firearms? If all law-abiding gun owners are responsible as you suggest, and the law would allow them three full days to report lost and stolen firearms, and there are no known examples of law-abiding gun owners being prosecuted when reporting such firearms a few days late, then what do gun owners have to fear from these laws?

    As for illegal gun traffickers, the ATF described how traffickers exploit the current lack of laws requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms in a 2006 document entitled “Firearms Trafficking 101 or Where Do Crime Guns Come From?”: “Straw purchasers cannot account for the guns, but will frequently tell elaborate lies which are hard to disprove. They will claim the guns were stolen or that they held a big party and after the party was over the guns were missing, although they failed to report the theft to police.”

    A good high-profile example of this occurred in the DC sniper case. In November 2001, Earl Dancy, Jr. straw purchased a .308 Remington 700 rifle (a gun often used by police departments for tactical shooting) from Bull’s Eye Shooting Supply for John Allen Muhammad. On August 17, 2002, the rifle was found loaded and pointed towards an apartment complex in Tacoma. Local police traced the gun to Dancy and questioned him. Dancy told them the rifle was stolen (lying at the request of Muhammad). Not having anything to charge Dancy with, and unable to disprove his claim, authorities released him. The rest is history—Muhammed and Malvo would acquire another rifle (the Bushmaster XM-15) from Bull’s Eye and go on a shooting spree, killing at least ten people. Had authorities been able to charge Dancy with a crime in November 2001—had they possessed that type of leverage against his alibi—they might have discovered that the Remington was intended for Muhammed and the tragic deaths might have been averted.

    Responsibility and accountability go hand in hand. If law-abiding gun owners are as responsible as you indicate, then they can certainly help authorities put away straw purchasers and illegal gun traffickers by supporting laws to require the reporting of lost and stolen guns. Most Americans will simply not buy the argument that those with “large collections” should not have to be accountable for their firearms. - CSGV

  9. First of all, a clarification. No I don't own a large collection of firearms (currently I only own 3). Second of all, when I said, "Immediately", I ment as soon as I found out the theft had occurred, whether it was several days later, or a few minutes after the fact.

    Anyway, I don't buy your claim that most stolen guns are not reported because there is simply no reason for lawful citizens not to do so. Why wouldn't they? What would they gain from not reporting them? How would they get them back if they were ever found? Lawful gun owners need no coercion from the law to report their firearms stolen, since they do not benefit, and in fact they would greatly suffer, from failing to do so.

    No I can't find any evidence that lawful gun owners have been prosecuted for not reporting thefts fast enough, but how could I? There is no way to prove when a theft took place. And there is the problem with the law. It is entirely up to the police to decide weather or not the person reporting the theft is doing so within the required time frame. Any time a person reported a theft, the burden of proof would be on them to show they made the report fast enough.

    Is it really so hard for you to see how such a system could end up effecting lawful gun theft victims who did nothing wrong? We should not have to wait for solid proof of such a case in order to prevent them from ever happening.

    As I said before, illegal traffickers are already risking many years in prison by making "straw purchases" and black market sales. The notion that they would be concerned with the possibility of an additional far lesser charge (usually just a fine) is absurd. These laws would only effect the lawful, not the lawless.

    No one is saying that citizens with large gun collections should not be accountable, but we need to be realistic. The larger your collection is, the more difficult it is to keep track of, and thus the greater possibility they might not notice a theft for several days. With these laws in effect, once they finally did discover the theft, they would face a difficult choice: Report the theft and risk prosecution, or avoid the risk by staying silent and hoping the cops never find out. It's not a choice any citizen should ever have to make.

    I agree with one thing you say. Responsibility and accountability do go hand in hand. This is why responsible gun owners already do report their guns stolen without any coercion from the law, and would not support laws that may unfairly criminalize them for doing the right thing.

    Again, you need to stop looking at the intentions of the law and instead focus on the real world effects. Once you do that, you well see that lawful gun owners do indeed have much to fear from it.

    The biggest problem seems to be that you think gun theft victims are offenders who deserve to be punished. Gun theft victims are no different then the victims of any other crime. They deserve our sympathy and support, not the threat of fines or a prison sentences.

    Like I said before, if a law was ever passed that required rape victims to report their attack, victim's rights groups would correctly denounce it, regardless of the law's good intentions. Laws that require the reporting of gun thefts should be opposed for all the same reasons.

  10. thestaplegunkid9, it is not our claim that “most gun owners do not report stolen firearms to the police.” That statement was made by the ATF, the agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws. The ATF works regularly with state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate cases of illegal gun trafficking, many of which involve lost or stolen firearms (“Following the Gun,” p. xi).

    You have yet to provide a single shred of evidence that would contradict this and support a claim that many gun owners report lost or stolen guns, much less most or all.

    As to why most gun owners don’t report their guns lost or stolen, there are likely multiple reasons. Most obviously, they are not required to in the overwhelming majority of states. They might be distrustful of government or law enforcement. They might be influenced by the gun lobby’s consistent opposition to laws requiring such reporting. Or they might have “large collections” and not even be aware that they lost a firearm(s). Those are just a sample of possible explanations.

    Your claim that gun owners “could face criminal charges if the police or prosecutors believe the owner did not report the theft fast enough” is also completely unsupported by evidence, despite the fact that six states have laws on the books requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. The gun lobby has certainly never been shy about publicizing cases of wrongful prosecution of law-abiding gun owners—if such a case existed, we’d know about it.

    Meanwhile, straw purchasers and traffickers continue to exploit the lack of such reporting laws on a daily basis, using the convenient alibi that their gun(s) “was stolen.” These trafficked guns are used by criminals to cause injury and death across our country, as in the case of the DC snipers cited above.

    Finally, we consider your comparison of rape victims—who experience tremendous physical and emotional trauma—with gun theft victims to be inappropriate. – CSGV

  11. I'm enjoying this conversation between staplegunkid9 and stopgunviolence. This kind of reasoned debate is the best path to finding solutions to prevent gun violence.
    I'm having a hard time with your argument staplegun, I need more than your assertion that gun owners will report theft. I encourage you to do what you suggested for Vann, -- homework. (Or, if you've changed your mind, you could always support a theft report law in your state.) Just bring some facts, and leave the victims of sexual assault alone.

  12. I didn't compare rape victims to gun theft victims because they suffer the same amount. I did it to show that in both cases, it would be wrong to treat them as offenders and victimize them a second time.

    There are currently no federal laws requiring reporting by victims of attempted murder, assault, rape, kidnapping, or any other serious crime. Why should gun theft victims get special treatment? (or more accurately, special punishment)

    Gun theft victims are not the enemy. They are victims. Treating them as criminals is not the answer to reducing crime, and in fact would only make them less likely to aid the authorities.

  13. Another thing to consider is that places with mandatory gun theft reporting laws have not seen significant results from them


    "Lose a gun in Cleveland and fail to report it to police and you could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. But in the 12 years that ordinance has been on Cleveland's books, only two people have been taken to court for failing to report a lost or stolen gun."

    "We've had two documented instances in which people have been brought before the court for violating the ordinance," said Martin L. Flask, Cleveland's public safety director. One was in 1996, the other five years later. In four other cases, police charged someone with failing to report, but prosecutors dropped it.

    Last year, Hartford, Conn., tried a different approach: requiring owners to report the loss or theft of a gun within 72 hours, or, if the gun is later used in a felony, face a lawsuit from the city seeking to recover the costs of investigating and prosecuting the crime. Though the city has had that power since May 2007, it has yet to file such a lawsuit, according to police public information officer Nancy M. Mulroy."

    So much for mandatory reporting laws being a significant crime fighting tool.

    Also another quote is notable from Mr. Flask:

    "Most citizens who lose (a gun), or have a firearm stolen, report the loss to law enforcement," he said.

  14. thestaplegunkid9, as we pointed out previously, there is no evidence whatsoever in the six states that have passed laws requiring the reporting of lost and stolen guns that law-abiding gun owners have been unfairly prosecuted. They have not been treated "as criminals," as you suggest, in any of these states.

    Victims of gun theft endure none of the physical and psychological trauma that rape victims do. And the public has a direct interest in tracking down the guns that have been taken from them. These guns, by definition, move into criminal hands where they can be used to harm, injure and/or kill others.

    Given that most gun owners currently do not report lost and stolen guns, policies to require them to do so are common-sense and can only improve public safety. And if gun owners are as responsible as you suggest, complying with such reporting requirements should pose no problems whatsoever. - CSGV

  15. hestaplegunkid9, Martin Flask is the public safety director of Cleveland, Ohio—a state that requires the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. In the article you cite, Mr. Flask states that the law is “well crafted” and “has value” because “most citizens who lose (a gun), or have a firearm stolen, report the loss to law enforcement.” Mr. Flask is confirming that the law has had the intended effect.

    One quote from the article that you did not cite is the following: “The NRA could not point to anyone who was unfairly victimized by existing lost or stolen gun reporting laws.”

    One thing that the article does not report for the three cities it looked at (Cleveland, Columbus and Hartford) is whether these laws have provided law enforcement with leverage to extract information from straw purchasers once their guns are recovered at crimes scenes (regarding who they illegally transferred these firearms to). It is possible, too, that some of these straw purchasers were later indicted for different offenses. - CSGV

  16. It is certainly true "the public has a direct interest in tracking down the guns that have been taken from them." However, I'm surprised you do not feel society has an equally direct interest in bringing to justice people who commit other serious crimes, such as rape, kidnapping, domestic violence, robbery, attempted murder, etc. etc.

    Failure of victims to cooperate with the police is often cited as a huge reason why the above mentioned crimes sometimes go unpunished, and leave the people who commit those crimes free to do so again.

    Yet for someone reason, you feel that the victims of gun theft are the only ones who should be criminalized whenever the police don't think they are making a report fast enough. Why is that?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all crime victims should be forced to make reports under the law. I'm saying none of them should, because it would only make them less likely to cooperate with the police and victimize them a second time. Meanwhile, I still await a reasonable explanation for your double standard against gun theft victims over victims of other crimes. It cannot be argued that not reporting other serious crimes is not damaging to society.

    It is true the NRA could not point to any specific cases of wrongful prosecution in Cleveland, but it seems the main reason for this is that these laws are not being enforced against ANYONE, with only 2 cases (1 which was dropped) in a span of 12 years. Perhaps lack of prosecution is better then wrongful prosecution, but it is hardly a success story.

    As for the statements from Mr. Fisk, you are simply seeing things that are not there. He does say the law sends a good message, but he does not say it is the sole reason that most gun owners do report thefts to the police, nor does he state that they were failing to do so before the law went into effect. Claiming otherwise based on what he really said is quite a stretch.

    Bringing up the notion that "laws have provided law enforcement with leverage to extract information from straw purchasers once their guns are recovered at crimes scenes" is pure speculation. The article contained no evidence to support that claim, and if there was I'm fairly sure Mr. Fisk would have mentioned it, as he has a vested interest in pointing it out. Furthermore, the notion that illegal traffickers, who are already willing to risk very severe prison sentences, would be concerned about getting a $250 dollar fine or spending 90 days in jail (assuming they even get the maximum penalty) seems highly improbable. It seems especially absurd to think that in order to avoid this, they would give up information that would allow prosecutors to indict them on the much more serious crimes with greater sentences.

  17. thestaplegunkid9, you’ve frequently compared rape victims to victims of gun theft in arguing that neither should have to report crimes. We’ve made it clear that we think there is a substantial difference in the amount of physical, psychological, and emotional trauma endured by rape victims (and victims of violent crime in general). It is understandable that women who have been raped would not be required to report these crimes given the trauma they’ve experienced and the unfortunate stigma attached to the crime. It takes tremendous courage for women to come forward and report rapes, and the decision to do so is immensely personal and challenging.

    We don’t see any such challenges for victims of gun theft. Given that most gun owners fail to report such thefts—and given that such crimes by definition arm criminals and therefore threaten the well-being of others—it is in the public’s interest to require them to report these crimes.

    You seem to have misread the NRA’s quote from the article you cited. They claimed that a system requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms hasn’t worked “anywhere it has been tried,” then couldn’t name a single instance in any of the 7 states that have enacted such a law where a law-abiding citizen was unfairly victimized. Again, if you can provide a single example of such a case yourself, please do so.

    The statement of Cleveland’s public safety director was also quite clear. He stated that the law is “well crafted” and “has value” because of the message it sends. He then stated that most citizens in Ohio are reporting lost and stolen guns. The law is therefore accomplishing its primary goal, which is good news.

    Nationwide, we know that most gun owners do not report lost and stolen guns (ATF, ”Following the Gun” report), so hopefully Ohio’s law will serve as a model for other states.

    You also seem to have misunderstood our additional inquiry about Ohio’s law. Our point was we would have like to have seen this article explore whether the law has provided law enforcement in Ohio with leverage to extract information from straw purchasers about where they have transferred their firearms. We know that straw purchasers frequently use “that gun was lost/stolen” as a successful alibi when confronted by authorities (“Straw purchasers cannot account for the guns, but will frequently tell elaborate lies which are hard to disprove. They will claim the guns were stolen or that they held a big party and after the party was over the guns were missing, although they failed to report the theft to police.”). Hopefully, future investigative reports will look at how Ohio law enforcement is using the law in cases involving straw purchases (to extract information how these guns are being trafficked). - CSGV

  18. Mr. Flask never said that most people failed to report gun thefts before the mandatory reporting law went into effect. I think it is just as likely he was confirming that most people report lost or stolen firearms in general, regardless of the law.

    Considering how rare prosecutions are for mandatory reporting laws, the NRA's statement it "has not worked anywhere it has been tried" appears accurate. Hartford reported no prosecutions in nearly 2 years, while Cleveland had 2 cases over a span of 12. That would seem to be a key reason why there is a lack of wrongful prosecution cases to cite. It is because of a lack of prosecution in general.

    Again, the notion that the threat of a $250 dollar fine and/or 90 day jail sentence would be effective leverage against people willing to risk severe prison sentences for gun trafficking just seems very unlikely. If the "straw purchaser" were to give information about where he illegally sold his guns, he would be confessing to a much more serious crime and could face a prison term of over 10 years. Why would he/she do that? Isn't it more likely they would rather pay a small fine and do a small amount of jail time? And of course, that's assuming they even get prosecuted and convicted, which judging from news reports, is highly improbable.

    Your statement that "Hopefully, future investigative reports will look at how Ohio law enforcement is using the law in cases involving straw purchases (to extract information how these guns are being trafficked)" neglects the possibility that law enforcement groups are not using such cases for leverage at all because they would be ineffective for doing so, which seems far more likely given the lack of prosecution and small penalties even if a conviction occurs.

  19. thestaplegunkid9, there is no indication that Mr. Flask was speaking in a general sense. He was being interviewed about Cleveland’s ordinance specifically and his comments about citizen reporting of lost and stolen guns followed directly after he praised Cleveland’s ordinance as one that is “well crafted” and “has value.” It would be difficult to understand why he would view the ordinance as being valuable if it had no appreciable effect. Additionally, Ohio’s law requiring the reporting of lost and stolen guns has been in effect since 1996. Mr. Flask has only served as Cleveland’s public safety director since January 2006.

    Regarding the impact of Ohio’s law, here’s what we know, based on evidence:

    1) The ATF has reported that “most gun owners do not report stolen firearms to the police” nationwide. This determination was made in a federal report that exhaustively analyzed 1,530 firearms trafficking investigations over a two-and-a-half-year period, many of them involving lost and/or stolen firearms.

    2) Ohio’s law, which has been in effect since 1996, has resulted in most gun owners reporting lost and stolen firearms to local law enforcement.

    3) Ohio’s law has not resulted in a single case of a law-abiding gun owner being wrongfully prosecuted.

    Given these facts, arguments against the law simply aren’t credible. Ohio’s law is having the desired impact without any of the gun lobby’s predicted “criminalization” of legitimate gun owners.

    As for straw purchasers, it is well known that straw purchasers frequently walk free after telling authorities “my gun was lost/stolen.” Law enforcement has no leverage whatsoever to use against these individuals in the 43 states that exempt individuals from reporting lost and stolen guns. As noted by the ATF, it can be near impossible for authorities to disprove such lies. So the prospect of a felony conviction likely holds little weight in states that allow straw purchasers this convenient and foolproof alibi.

    The prospect of a criminal conviction, however—in a scenario where the “my gun was lost/stolen” alibi is completely useless—could very well deter straw purchasers. It also could lead them to turn over information about the criminals who they trafficked their guns to, who are of more immediate concern to law enforcement officers looking to provide for the public’s safety. - CSGV

  20. You just don't seem to get it. "Turning over information about the criminals who they trafficked their guns to" would require the straw purchaser to confess to illegal trafficking, which carries a substantial prison sentence, as opposed to simply taking his chances with being charged under the mandatory reporting law, which as I have showed carries a fairly small penalty even in the rare cases when it is in enforced.

    And the evidence is overwhelming that they are not being enforced. While Mr. Flask was probably just making a statement about citizens in general about firearm theft reporting, other statements in the article are far more explicit:

    "Neither Ceasefire PA nor other anti-violence or gun control groups contacted could name a city that has aggressively enforced a lost or stolen gun reporting law."

    The reasons for lack of enforcement are explain in more detail here:

    "In Columbus, Ohio, it is a misdemeanor to "knowingly fail to report to law enforcement authorities forthwith the loss or theft of any firearm." Last revised in 1996, that provision and related rules "appear to be rarely if ever enforced," wrote Jeffrey S. Furbee, Columbus' assistant city attorney and police legal adviser, in response to questions

    "The lack of enforcement is likely, at least in part, due to the difficulty in enforcing these sections," he wrote, noting the burden it puts on prosecutors to prove that the owner knew the gun was gone."

    You can see from the last paragraph that criminals can still use lies to evade charges under the mandatory reporting laws.

    Because of this, it would appear the NRA's statement about mandatory reporting laws "not working" seems to correct. It would also seem to be a key reason why there are no visible victims of wrongful prosecution, considering there are hardly any prosecutions at all, in Cleveland, Hartford, Columbus, or anywhere else.

  21. thestaplegunkid9, the primary purpose of Ohio’s law is to get gun owners to report lost and stolen guns. Mr. Flask has confirmed that this is happening. Given that we have evidence from ATF that, nationally, most gun owners do not report lost and stolen guns, the law is achieving its primary purpose. That alone proves its value. And as mentioned previously, there have been no wrongful prosecutions of law-abiding gun owners in Ohio or any of the other 6 states that have passed such a law as predicted by the gun lobby.

    There was no discussion whatsoever in the article about the law’s efficacy in cases involving straw purchases. The article simply looked at prosecutions under the law in three cities, providing actual statistics for just one (Cleveland). The question of enforcement, in any case, is different than the question of the law’s value as drafted.

    And the investigative picture you paint seems to us to be a tad simplistic. A straw purchaser who provides information to authorities about individuals they trafficked guns to could receive immunity for their testimony, or plead down to a lesser charge. There are many options open to prosecutors in these situations. And the priority for authorities in these cases would be to identify the guns still on the street and apprehend the prohibited purchasers who received them. - CSGV