Kevin Dawson of Ooltewah was arrested Wednesday and charged with violating federal weapons laws. Normally, such a routine arrest would attract little attention. Not this time.
Dawson, police say, traded guns with Jesse Matthews, a felon later charged in the shooting death of Chattanooga Police Sgt. Tim Chapin on April 1, 2011. That transaction exposes the dangers of current loopholes in gun laws that routinely allow private individuals to buy, sell and trade guns at shows without the background checks and record-keeping required at licensed retail shops. That makes the case far more newsworthy than usual in a community still struggling to cope with the death of Sgt. Chapin.
There's nothing in the federal indictment to suggest that a weapon Dawson traded to Matthews was used by the man charged in the police officer's death. Rather, the federal indictment charges Dawson with "engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without a federal firearms license, and in the course of such business to ship, transport, or receive any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce." He's also charged with the transfer or possession of a machine gun.
Those charges, and any additional ones that might be placed, will be adjudicated in federal court. There will be no such hearing to address current laws that permit the easy transfer of dead-ly weapons from individual to individual and the easy flow of weapons from state to state that undercover officers meticulously documented in Dawson's indictment. But that's the core underlying problem behind so many crimes.
Dawson had been told by federal agents in the past that he should seek a federal firearms license "because of his apparent frequent and consistent firearms sales," but he continued to wheel and deal without one. Agents reported that he sold guns of all sorts, even when purchasers seemingly made it clear that they would transport their purchases across state lines.
The ready availability of guns -- including, apparently, machine guns and large caliber weapons -- is hardly a new problem. It's directly responsible for the nation's plague of gun violence. That violence is likely to continue, and grow worse, until the nation's gun laws change. Given the power of the National Rifle Association, unfortunately, that's not going to occur anytime soon.
The NRA and other pro-gun groups resist any changes to current rules which, in most states, allow private individuals of legal age to buy and sell guns almost at will. Generally, such sales are cash transactions which allow sellers and purchasers to avoid background-check procedures and registration of such exchanges by either party.
That contrasts sharply with mandatory standards for licensed gun shop dealers. They are required to run background checks on purchasers, and to keep detailed records of sales and purchasers. Licensed dealers must follow those rules at gun shows, but private sellers have no such obligation.
This disparity must be eliminated. The current rules clearly encourage the sale of guns to those who would not be able to pass a background check at a licensed retailers. The result is that a vast number of guns end up in criminals' hands. Indeed, mayors and governors of states with tighter laws have regularly documented the flow of unregistered guns from southern states to criminals on their streets.
Regardless, the gun industry and its supporters make the bogus claims that universal background checks and limitations on monthly by straw gun dealers are too onerous on gun manufacturers and buyers. Though they won't admit it, their main interest is maintaining profits.
In fact, most licensed gun dealers report brisk business and steady profits. And many licensed dealers employ modern technology to do instant background checks at gun shows. Individual sellers could employ the same methodology, or show sponsors could hire a licensed dealer to process background checks for private sellers -- and in some states are required to do so.
In low-regulation states controlled by the gun lobby, that's not likely to happen. That's Republicans' pact with the devil.
There's even a smaller chance that Congress will approve sensible gun legislation. The NRA knows that. It wants more guns in more places. And it is getting its way.
Witness the continued the rush across the country to pass laws allowing individuals to carry guns just about anywhere -- including bars, parks, churches and even some schools.
Requiring background checks and registration for all gun sales are sensible ways to help mitigate gun violence. It is not an onerous requirement. Americans willingly register cars and trucks in return for more order on the roads. Given the United States' penchant for violence, current rules for firearms purchases are essentially useless. Without change, the number of innocent citizens and enforcement officers killed by firearms every year in the United States will continue to grow.