Gun Control: You Live Free, We Die

IN ARIZONA, A GUNMAN OPENS FIRE in a supermarket parking lot and six people, including nine-year-old Christina Green, are killed. Thirteen others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, are wounded.

In Massachusetts, we shake our learned heads at the gunslinger mores of the Wild West and congratulate ourselves that such horrific gun violence could not happen here. The 9-millimeter Glock that in seconds sprayed the Tucson crowd with dozens of bullets is banned in Massachusetts. The gun permit that the assailant did not need in Arizona is mandatory here. The cursory background check required there is reinforced here with rigorous, time-consuming reviews. There is no disputing it: Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.

But it’s a delusion to think they are keeping us safe.

Our gun laws didn’t save Julissa Brisman. Philip Markoff simply went to a licensed gun shop in Mason, New Hampshire, plunked down somebody else’s ID, and walked out with the 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun he used to kill her in 2009. And the gun-procurement method of the so-called Craigslist Killer was no aberration: In 2009 almost 64 percent of guns found at crime scenes in Massachusetts and traced by authorities were purchased out of state. New Hampshire was the top supplier, followed by Maine. Georgia and Florida — lenient gun-control states along what has become known as the I-95 gun-trafficking corridor — supplied most of the rest.

There is no news in these statistics, which come from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Mayor Tom Menino has been complaining about our porous borders for more than a decade. He knows what the victims in Massachusetts know: Gun violence is happening here.

Shootings increased by 17 percent in Boston last year, leaving 206 people wounded and 58 dead — a sharp spike in fatalities from 2009, when 35 people were killed by gunfire. Four of those who died last year, including a toddler, were gunned down in the street in Mattapan, a scene no less shocking than the one in Arizona. Was two-year-old Amani Smith any less innocent than nine-year-old Christina Green?

We do not yet know the origin of the weapon that also left a fifth victim paralyzed in that Mattapan shooting, but we do know the way many of the guns in Boston find their way here. In a recent piece for the Dorchester Reporter, Stephen Kurkjian and Pat Tarantino of Northeastern University’s Initiative for Investigative Reporting wrote about the purchase of 18 Boston-bound handguns in Georgia by two women on behalf of two felons. The straw purchasers had no records to pop up on the perfunctory background check that federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform so they can flag anyone dishonorably discharged from the military, convicted of a felony, or ruled mentally incompetent by a court.

Private sales in most states get even less scrutiny. Gun shows, unregulated
in New Hampshire and 32 other states even after the massacre at Columbine, attract private sellers who can hawk guns out of car trunks without doing even the 10-minute database check required of licensed gun dealers working the same show.

Which means that the stringent background checks, scrupulous permitting process, required safety courses, and mandatory trigger locks in Massachusetts offer false reassurance. Those practices won’t stem the carnage so long as it is as easy to evade state gun laws as it is to avoid the state sales tax by buying that flat-screen TV at the Rockingham Park mall.