Background Checks Don’t Work. Why? Blame The Bureaucracy
In light of the recent terrorist attack in Orlando, one subject has dominated American political discourse: the subject of gun control.
One of the most common arguments made by advocates of gun control is that we need better background checks.
While in some cases that may be true, as loopholes do exist in current federal gun laws that allow criminals to obtain their weapons (such as dealer license exemptions for gun sellers who sell weapons for the purpose of buyers collecting them as hobbies), the goal of reducing gun violence through mandated background checks will be virtually impossible to achieve through legislation alone.
There is a second, much more serious problem that would need to be addressed prior to the passing of any new laws, and that is an incompetent bureaucracy.
Per the Daily Beast:
“…(Omar) Mateen had purchased a Sig Sauer .223 caliber assault rifle at a firearms shop near his Florida home, St. Lucie Gun Sales, on June 4 and then a Glock 17 at the same store on June 5. Mateen had returned to the store a third time on June 9 to buy magazines for his weapons. The store is a federally licensed firearms dealer. Under law, the seller would have had to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Mateen’s purchase so that his name could be checked against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Mateen was actually listed on two federal watch lists, a U.S. official tells The Daily Beast: The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which contains classified information, and the Terrorist Screening Database, which is the FBI’s central watchlist. The gun background check would have run Mateen’s name against that second database, but he had been removed from it in 2014. The sales were approved and early Sunday morning he used the weapons to fire round after round after round at defenseless people at the Pulse nightclub. Mateen left a third weapon, a revolver capable of firing only a mere six shots, in his van.
An FBI spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether the gun seller made the required check. However, it’s unlikely it would have raised any red flags.”
Assuming that the gun seller did make the required check, it would have been impossible for him or her to have received any information regarding terrorism-related investigations, as Mateen had been removed from the TSD, and the TIDE would have been inaccessible due to its possession of classified information.
This right here should be a red flag.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center:
“Each day analysts create and enhance TIDE records based on their review of nominations received. Every evening, TIDE analysts export a sensitive but unclassified subset of the data containing the terrorist identifiers to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) for use in the USG’s consolidated watchlist.”
In other words, there are two possibilities explaining the fact that the FBI did not keep investigating Mateen after 2014: either it ignored unclassified subsets of data regarding him that was forwarded by TIDE, or TIDE kept Mateen’s files as classified information. Either one of those possibilities reflects poorly on the state of our bureaucracy, and are problems that need to be remedied as soon as possible.
I’m not a government insider, so I have no proof as to why this breakdown in communication between different federal agencies has occurred, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was just another instance of agency rivalry, which has been a defining factor in relations between federal agencies (particularly the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA) for decades.
This factor is perhaps best summed up in Mark Riebling’s book Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA, which highlights examples of national traumas that could have turned out differently if cooperation had existed, from Pearl Harbor to the McCarthy investigations to the mishandling of Soviet spies and defectors to the JFK assassination to Watergate to 9/11.
This book was first published in 1994 (an extended edition was later published in 2002), but if the events of the last few days have proven anything, perhaps little, if anything at all, has changed regarding this matter over the last 22 years.
I have one question to ask: How many more people must die before we take action to reform our bureaucracy?
If we are to have gun laws, or any laws for that matter, we must make sure they are enforced properly before we take action to create new legislation.
It is not enough that the legislative branch works to keep us safe.
The executive branch must do its part as well.
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Cover Photo Credit: mrwynd/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)