House Democrats made no bones about their legislative priority in 2019: gun control. Specifically, criminalizing the private transfer of firearms between law-abiding citizens.
“I do believe, because in this Congress…there is bipartisan legislation to have common sense background checks to prevent guns going into the wrong hands. It doesn’t cover everything, but it will save many lives,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last week in an interview with CNN.
“This will be a priority for us going into the next Congress,” Pelosi added.
Responding to the shooting that left 12 dead in her home state of California, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says there is “bipartisan legislation to have common sense background checks” pic.twitter.com/3w9xlPvHcE
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 9, 2018
With Dems occupying at least 227 seats in the House, compared to the GOP’s 198 (10 seats are still up for grabs), gun-control legislation will indubitably be reintroduced and debated next year.
The real question is what becomes of the debate? Trump has suggested on at least one occasion that he’d be open to strengthening background checks.
“Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!” said Trump following the mass killing in Parkland, Florida back in Feb.
Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
The president’s “official” position on the topic was later clarified by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who told reporters, according to The Hill, that Trump supports “not necessarily universal background checks, but certainly improving the background check system.”
“He wants to see what that legislation, the final piece of it looks like,” she explained. “Universal means something different to a lot of people. He certainly wants to focus and improve on the background check system.”
What’s worrisome, in addition to Trump’s initial remarks, is that public support for universal background checks is overwhelming. Mostly because the devils in the details and the average Joe doesn’t understand how the system works.
Any firearm purchased from a gun shop or FFL is subject to a background check. However, sales or transfers from one private citizen to another, in some 28 states, do not require a background check. This is the putative “loophole” that anti-gunners complain about. They contend that every transfer should require a background check, hence the term “universal.”
While that sounds good in theory the truth is that there are real problems with implementing universal background checks. The first is efficacy. Since the vast majority of individuals responsible for the vast majority of what they call “gun crime” will not comply with the mandate because they’re criminals, i.e. lawbreakers!, (drug dealers, violent felons, etc., people already prohibited from owning firearms in the first place) it’s unreasonable to expect the law to have a profound impact.
Moreover, at least one national survey of prison inmates investigating so-called “crime guns” indicated that 90 percent were procured via illegal means. In other words, criminals didn’t buy these weapons at a gun show or at the local hunting club or from your uncle Bob. Rather, criminals obtained their guns via straw purchasers, theft or the black market.
Beyond efficacy or the lack thereof, there is the problem of taxation. Background checks aren’t free. FFLs charge a “transfer fee” every time they run a background check. What we have to assess is whether it is constitutional to force citizens to pay what is tantamount to a tax every time they let a friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker buy or even borrow a firearm. One can argue that the fee associated with the mandatory transfer chills one’s 2A rights.
Then there is the issue of enforcing universal background checks. For law enforcement to know whether a firearm was lawfully transferred they need immediate access to detailed records. In short, a centralized registry that contains the names of every gun owner in the country along with the guns they own. Otherwise, there is no way to ensure compliance with the law in a timely manner.
Time is key here. Police can’t waste precious man hours tracking down paper records in a filing cabinet in the back room of a gun store just to be sure that the Remington 700 uncle Bob sold to your hunting buddy Christopher was a lawful transfer. It’s just not an efficient use of resources, particularly if the primary goal of law enforcement is to target the real, violent offenders on the streets. Hence the need for the national database.
Finally, if we agree that a national database is necessary to ensure compliance then we must agree that universal background checks are a nonstarter. The reason is obvious. A national database is a kill-me-first list for a government bending toward tyranny. The 2A was enshrined in the Constitution to be a safeguard against that type of existential threat to liberty and individual rights. Tipping our hand to Big Brother as to who owns what renders that safeguard useless.
And so, we must be extremely vigilant in the coming months. There’s no doubt that a universal background check bill is coming. We need to be prepared to fight it with everything we got.