By Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Recently we learned that a convicted killer in one of the most notorious school massacres in American history tried to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Arkansas resident Drew Douglas Grant applied for a concealed carry permit on October 7, according to reports. Authorities said they discovered that his application omitted some information – in particular, the time he spent incarcerated in a Federal penitentiary.
Yet it was the set of fingerprints that Grant had to provide to the police, pursuant to Arkansas' licensing regulations, that proved key to discovering his true identity. Grant's prints matched those from one of the shooters at the Westside Middle School massacre in Jonesboro, Arkansas over 10 years ago – the fingerprints of Andrew Golden.
Together with an accomplice, Golden killed four students and a teacher and wounded 10 others at the school in 1998. Golden, who was 11 years-old at the time, had changed his name to Grant. Golden was caught because Arkansas gives law enforcement enough discretion to decide that handing a concealed carry license to a mass killer isn't in the interest of public safety.
The fact that Arkansas also requires applicants to provide fingerprints was a crucial tool that helped the police conduct a thorough background check, leading them to discover that Drew Douglas Grant was actually Andrew Golden.
This is a person who decided to go through legal channels to obtain a permit to carry a concealed, loaded handgun from state authorities, and was properly rejected.
Not too long ago, the National Rifle Association claimed that criminals never subjected themselves to legal means of getting firearms, and that no amount of criminal background checks would make a difference anyway.
* Shortly before the Brady Bill became law, former NRA chief lobbyist James Jay Baker said on CNN: "If anybody in your audience really believes that criminals go into gun stores, fill out paperwork and have their backgrounds checked out by police, they also believe in the tooth fairy."
* At about the same time, another former NRA spokesman, Richard Gardiner, said to PBS that dangerous people like "convicted felons, fugitives, just aren't buying guns from legitimate commercial sources."
* Similarly, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said to CBS News, "The other thing we've pointed out is the great majority of criminals don't buy their guns in gun stores anyway…. They aren't dumb enough to walk into a gun store."
Clearly, the gun lobby gives too many criminals too much credit – as people like Andrew Golden and hundreds of thousands of other dangerous people show us every year.
When it comes to Brady background checks, over 1.6 million felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers have been rejected by the Brady Law in the last 15 years – all of them "dumb enough to walk into a gun store" to buy a gun.
In fact, in the last year alone over 135,000 dangerous people tried to buy guns from licensed gun dealers and were rejected by a Brady criminal background check.
The broader point of the Golden/Grant application is that strong gun laws work to protect the public. While Arkansas is hardly a model for common sense gun regulation, at least they require taking fingerprints before handing out a concealed carry license to someone.
Other states like Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and West Virginia don’t require fingerprint checks. How many dangerous people have they handed concealed carry licenses to because of it?
The key lesson to be learned from Andrew Golden's blocked attempt is that there are things we can do to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns. Many criminals – even mass killers like the Jonesboro or Virginia Tech killers – still go through legal channels to get firearms every single day.
Strong, common sense gun laws could help stop them.
Click here to see our discussion about guns on college campuses.