NRA uses Justice memo to accuse Obama on guns

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 25, 2013 at 7:49 am •  Published: February 25, 2013
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His plan also includes tougher federal laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases, which occur when a person legally buys a firearm but sells it to a criminal or someone else barred from owning a weapon.

Interest in the gun issue has intensified since the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at an elementary school. The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee plans to write legislation addressing some of Obama's proposals in the next week or two.

The NRA's Cox declined to say how his organization obtained the memo.

He said the commercial is running online in 15 states, including many Republican-leaning states where Democrats will defend Senate seats next year, such as Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. There are also ads in papers in five states.

The memo was written under the name of Greg Ridgeway, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department's research arm. It is dated Jan. 4, nearly two weeks before Obama announced his plan for restricting guns, and Ridgeway's first day as acting chief.

Justice Department officials said Ridgeway was not granting interviews. He came to the institute last July from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution where he studied criminal justice issues, and has a Ph.D. in statistics.

The memo says straw purchases and gun thefts are the largest sources of firearms used in crimes, and that such transactions "would most likely become larger if background checks at gun shows and private sellers were addressed."

Gun control supporters said the NRA ad and the Justice memo don't mention that the current federal background check system blocked gun sales to 2.1 million criminals and others barred from owning guns between 1994, when the checks began, and 2010. Also ignored is that Obama has proposed cracking down on straw purchases to prevent a growth in illegal transactions, they said.

Advocates of restricting guns also said the memo omitted mention of several studies that affirm the effectiveness of firearms curbs. These include a 2010 police group analysis showing more than one-third of police departments found increased criminal use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines since the 2004 expiration of the ban on those items.

"It doesn't appear to be a serious discussion of gun violence prevention policy, never mind an expression of administration policy," said Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The memo says that out of 11,000 annual gun homicides, an average of 35 deaths yearly are from mass shootings, defined as those with four or more victims.

"Policies that address the larger firearm homicide issue will have a far greater impact even if they do not address the particular issues of mass shootings," it says.

It says there were an estimated 1.5 million assault weapons before the 10-year ban on those firearms began in 1994, so their sheer number would weaken a new ban exempting existing weapons. Such guns accounted for just 2 percent to 8 percent of crimes before the 1994 ban, so eliminating assault weapons "would not have a large impact on gun homicides," the memo said.

Recent data on the assault weapons ban impact is scarce because since the 1990s, Congress has blocked most federal research on the effect that firearms have on public health. As part of the gun restrictions Obama proposed last month, he ordered federal scientific agencies to research gun violence.

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