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I don't ever remember my jaw dropping like it did when I learned about America's gun-tracing process.

It wasn't even a topic I was all that interested in, to be honest. Gun policy? Sure. Gun tracing? Meh.

But the headline of this 2016 GQ article — "Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns" — caught my eye, so I dove in. All I can say is "Holy sh**." I'm not sure if I'm more shocked, appalled, or mesmerized, but I definitely feel some big feelings.


Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

I suppose I always assumed there had to be a few limitations to what the government could do about guns. But I didn't realize how far those limits reached — or how absurd those limitations would make the entire gun tracing operation appear.

Frankly, if the following wild facts don't boggle your mind, I'm not sure how we exist on the same planet.

1. Let's start with this: Gun records aren't kept on a computer database. They aren't allowed to be.

To keep track of guns and gun sales, folks at the National Tracing Center in West Virginia — an agency of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — use a combination of millions of pieces of paper and microfilm. They have no searchable, centralized computer database of gun data — not by serial number, not by owner registration, not by sales records — nothing of the sort.

As Charlie Houser, the genuinely fascinating ATF agent who runs the National Tracing Center told GQ, "We ain't got a registration system. Ain't nobody registering no damn guns."

Charlie Houser heads up the National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Screenshot via MEL Films.

So the 49 ATF agents who work at the tracing center have to manually flip through millions — literallymillions — of pieces of paper and microfilm to perform their traces.

Paper and microfilm. For information that could easily be kept and quickly searched on a computer database. For information that really shouldn't need shipping container after shipping container full of boxes to maintain.

WTF, America.

2. We are the among the most technologically advanced countries in the world, yet our gun tracing system is straight out of 1984.

I mean the actual year 1984, though the novel might apply, too.

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about, check out this 10-minute short film, "Guns Found Here":

Just the first 10 seconds of that video speaks volumes. Click click click click. Flip flip flip flip. The latter? It's the sound of just a few of the 67 million pieces of paper in the officeand the 2 million more arriving every month.

Each paper means at least one gun, by the way. "Bizarrely antiquated" is one phrase that comes to mind. "Maddeningly inefficient" is another.

I mean, this is the 21st century, right? We haven't slipped into some kind of time warp, have we?

You really have to give it to Houser and his team, though. These dedicated folks have somehow pieced together a system that works as well as it possibly could despite the considerable limitations placed upon them.

But seriously, there is no way this is sustainable, physically or logistically.

3. The absurdity of our gun tracing system highlights our country's unique relationship with guns.

Much of the world is bemused and bewildered by America's relationship with guns. Heck, I was born and raised here, and I still don't get it myself.

Yes, we have the Second Amendment. But we also have the reality that the U.S. is a complete and total outlier when it comes to gun violence among developed nations. We have enough guns to arm every man, woman, and child (or at least we think we do — nobody knows for sure because we can't track them). Our firearm laws are all over the place, varying widely from state to state and city to city. And while we joke about gun worshippers, we have people literally using guns in worship.

But the weirdest thing to me about America and guns is the paranoia about the government that handcuffs our ability to effectively study the issue of gun violence.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Some Americans fear a centralized gun database because a tyrannical government could theoretically use it to confiscate people's weapons. At 5:45 in the video above, you hear a gentleman from GunGuyTV say, "There is no compelling reason for any government to register privately owned firearms unless they're planning to take them away."

If you say so, GunGuy. But in the real world, we need data to help us understand problems and find solutions for them.

Cars are a good example. I recently did some research on gun deaths vs. car deaths and was easily able to find exact numbers for how many cars there are, how many drivers are licensed, and all the various data one would need to get an accurate picture of car usage, accidents, etc. And we've used this data to make driving safer — in fact, we've decreased our car accident fatality rate by half since the early 1980s.

With guns, the picture looks much different. The numbers of guns and gun owners are all estimated based on polls and sales reports. We have no way to know what kinds of guns we have, who's carrying them, where they are, how many there are — nada. Reliable, trackable data just isn't there.

And even if it were, it would apparently be scanned into microfilm or piled up in shipping containers waiting to be flipped through by hand — so many papers that the floor might collapse.

[rebelmouse-image 19533483 dam="1" original_size="500x282" caption="GIF via "Stranger Things"/Netflix." expand=1]GIF via "Stranger Things"/Netflix.

It blows my mind that more people aren't bothered by this — including Houser and others who work at the Tracing Center.

Houser appears to be resigned to the unusual reality of his life's work. And from the descriptions of the other workers in the GQ article, it seems his co-workers simply take pride in their jobs and aren't fazed by the fact that it could be made so much simpler.

But what about the rest of America? One gun = one piece of paper. Maybe people just don't know that this is how gun data works in America. I know I had a lot of assumptions before delving deep into the subject.

I mean, why would one think there wouldn't be a computer database used to trace guns? I'd assume that law enforcement could just type in a serial number, pull up a gun record in the blink of an eye, and voila! We know whose gun it is. Seems logical in the age where people carry computers around in their pockets, right?

But nope. Not even close. Paper and microfilm. Click click click. Flip flip flip flip.

Congress discussed firearm data keeping after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Isn't it time we brought gun-related data into the 21st century? Shouldn't we demand common sense in at least this one area from our lawmakers?

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Teacher of the year explains why he's leaving district in unforgettable 3-minute speech

"I'm leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love."

Lee Allen

For all of our disagreements in modern American life, there are at least a few things most of us can agree on. One of those is the need for reform in public education. We don't all agree on the solutions but many of the challenges are undeniable: retaining great teachers, reducing classroom size and updating the focus of student curriculums to reflect the ever-changing needs of a globalized workforce.

And while parents, politicians and activists debate those remedies, one voice is all-too-often ignored: that of teachers themselves.

This is why a short video testimony from a teacher in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County went viral recently. After all, it's hard to deny the points made by someone who was just named teacher of the year and used the occasion to announce why he will be leaving the very school district that just honored him with that distinction.

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