Gun control proponents focus on enacting Universal Background Checks as the next step in preventing gun violence. Pro-gun groups dispute the need for more checks and see the concept as advancing a plan to subvert the right to bear arms. They fear government tracing of firearms and seek to deny progress to 2nd Amendment detractors.
Background check advocates claim overwhelming public support, yet four of the last six states to consider the idea for private transfers have rejected it. Washington State approved the checks by voter initiative last November. New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, and Virginia all refused to require the checks since then. Oregon recently enacted a background check law, but similar pending legislation in other states is by no means certain to pass, or even likely to be considered.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced a bill (H.R. 1217) to require background checks for most firearms transfers last January. The proposed law failed in the U.S. Senate during April 2013, as an Amendment to the Senate Gun Control Bill. I expect it to fail again, this time in the Judiciary Committees. Let me explain why this law keeps failing and why the efforts to pass it seem futile.
Universal Background Checks would not have prevented any of the seven major shooting events of the 21st Century, from Virginia Tech in 2007 to Charleston this year. Six of the seven shooters, Cho, Hasan, Loughner, Holmes, Alexis and Roof received approvals from the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) when they acquired their guns. The seventh stole the rifle he used from his mother, after murdering her with another of her guns. She had purchased them from local dealers with NICS checks.
Many firearms involved in other crimes have been through a background check and whether they have or not makes little difference. Criminals simply do not buy their guns legally. The National Institute of Justice says that most guns used in crime come from theft or straw purchases. Since both acquisition methods already break the law, adding the crime of avoiding a required background check has no appreciable deterrent value.
Gun control advocates, like “Everytown For Gun Safety” and “Americans For Responsible Solutions,” appear to lead the effort to enact Universal Background Checks for two reasons beyond the stated purpose of stopping prohibited purchases. These two unstated purposes may not seem futile, if your goal is to reduce or eliminate civilian ownership of most firearms.
First, the computer records created will improve the government’s ability to trace firearms and help enforce other gun control measures. The Obama Administration wants tracing “to prevent anonymous stockpiling of firearms,” according to oral arguments in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving background checks (Abramski v. U.S., No. 12-1493, 2014). Some states with Universal Background Check laws already use the records to confiscate firearms. In New York, the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act lets law enforcement cross reference databases to search for illegally possessed firearms. California does the same with its Armed Prohibited Persons System. The Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement unit confiscates guns under the city’s Firearms Ownership Identification program.
Second, gun control supporters seek “progress” towards larger goals. For example, the proponents of Washington’s successful initiative recently announced new anti-gun proposals. After the 2013 U.S. Senate Gun Control Bill background check amendment failed, President Obama said: “So while this compromise didn’t contain everything I wanted or everything that the [Sandy Hook] families wanted, it did represent progress.” The progress the President seeks is toward a goal of “transformation” to restrictions like those “in the United Kingdom, in Australia… ,” as he stated after the Navy Yard shooting and again in Charleston.
2nd Amendment defenders understand these two reasons quite well and find them abhorrent, so they fiercely oppose Universal Background Checks. With determination to make progress on one side and political resistance on the other, the futile showdown over background checks continues.