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Readers: Help CIR explore the role of guns in America

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With today’s launch of Hired Guns by reporter Shoshana Walter, The Center for Investigative Reporting embarks on an exploration of guns in America that will continue in 2015. The Second Amendment is much debated in the news, and we don’t intend to dedicate our resources to the controversy. But we are interested in figuring out what is broken and helping fix it.

We hope you will come along on our journey by signing up to receive regular updates and helping us decide which directions to head. A team of journalists already is mulling a few ideas and we’re interested in hearing what you think about them – now or whenever something occurs to you.

For instance, Hired Guns has raised serious questions about the rigor of oversight of prohibited possessors – people not allowed to own guns for mental health, violence or other reasons:

Anyone who purchases a gun from a licensed firearms dealer is required to go through a background check to determine whether he or she has lost the right to bear arms. But 27 states do not check whether armed-guard applicants are in this federal database and prohibited from carrying a gun. The database of prohibited possessors includes categories such as restraining orders or mental health commitments that do not usually appear in a routine FBI background check.

If Arizona had required regulators to check the prohibited possessors database, Joshua Kosatschenko might not have received his license. And he might not have begun work as an armed guard at a Tucson Circle K convenience store where, six weeks later, he shot and paralyzed an unarmed teenager.

We’re going to look into the breakdown of what seems on its face a reasonable law.

After the recent shooting in Florida State University’s library by a former student, reporter Matt Drange wrote a short piece about guns of choice in school shootings since Adam Lanza carried out his 2012 massacre of grade-school children in Newtown, Connecticut. He discovered something that intrigued us:

The make and model of guns used in shootings is not consistently reported by law enforcement, and there is no central federal repository for the information. Even the FBI has trouble getting the information.

Pete Blair, a lead author of the FBI study and an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, said some police departments declined to turn over detailed gun information, citing exemptions from state public records laws. Of the 160 cases included in the study, Blair obtained police reports for roughly 100 and turned to FBI field office and media reports for the rest.

Today’s package of stories is just a start, and we want to hear what you’re curious about as well. Please take a minute to tell us on this form.

Amy Pyle, Managing Editor

P.S.: Feel free to contact me or reporters on our guns team with tips or questions: 

Matt Drange

Abbie VanSickle

Shoshana Walter