Michigan has very minimal requirements for gun sales. But you need to get a permit before buying a pistol, and there are a few people who aren’t allowed a license, mainly those with a possibly dangerous mental illness or a criminal conviction.
State Representative Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, introduced a bill last week that seems pure common sense. He wants to require gun licensing agencies to notify police and prosecutors when someone applies and fails the background check.
He thinks if someone is trying to buy a gun who isn’t allowed to have one, it is a pretty reasonable guess that they are up to no good, and the authorities should know about it.
My Michigan Radio colleague Rina Miller asked me about this bill on the air Saturday, and I said I thought it was sensible – and had no chance of passing.
For one thing, Wittenberg is a Democrat, and would probably not be able to pass a bill honoring Mother’s Day if he didn’t have some powerful Republican cosponsors.
But for another, the fanatics of the National Rifle Association and their allies own enough lawmakers to never let any gun control legislation pass, no matter how sensible.
Later that day, I heard from a man with an interesting and nuanced perspective.
Harry Frank is a gun lover and collector.
He sells guns, trades guns, and is a concealed-carry permit holder in both Michigan and New Mexico.
Yet he is anything but a redneck racist in a pickup truck. He is a retired professor of social psychology at the U of M Flint, who now lives in Ann Arbor. He has no use for the NRA, and considers them “the worst possible spokesman,” for the Second Amendment.
He wrote to President Obama three years ago and said “I am a 1960s liberal … and a lifelong Democrat who hasn’t missed a primary or national election since I voted for Lyndon Johnson.”
But he is a fervent believer in gun rights.
He doesn’t think Wittenberg’s bill makes a lot of sense, since trying to buy a gun is not proof one intends to use it to commit a crime.
But as for background checks themselves, Frank told the President : “Bravo! It’s about time. When I see the racist (and possibly prison) tattoos that adorn many of the buyers who frequent gun shows,” he doubts man should have guns.
He suggests, however instead of having dealers do background checks, the government should e-mail “no-buy lists” to every licensed dealer every week.
Harry Frank knows his stuff.
He showed me statistics indicating that while so-called assault rifles are frightening and get all the attention, that’s misleading.
Far more people are actually killed by knives than by rifles of all types. Handguns are our murder weapon of choice.
Frank thinks the solution is merely for Congress to allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to do its job and restore its regulatory and enforcement powers.
I would personally be in favor of far more severe sanctions against guns than he. But if we are ever to have anything approaching a sane gun policy, it will have to be spearheaded by responsible gun owners like Dr. Frank.
I hope he can find a way to make his voice more loudly heard.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.