Monday, October 5, 2015
I plan to make this a series about some of the various political sound bytes pushed off as common sense gun control.
I recently wrote this to help describe to some intelligent and reasonable people that I usually agree with exactly whats wrong with Universal Background Checks, and why they are not the panacea politicians promise, and some people believe they are. So, let’s start off here with a few assumptions. First, you have some definite opinions on gun control, and believe there are some simple steps to that could be easily taken to drastically reduce gun crime, and mass shooting events in America. Second, let’s assume that someone you know who you otherwise respect and find you can agree with sent you to this posting. Third, you’re not (at least openly) calling for registration and confiscation of all personally owned firearms in America.
Ok now with those assumptions out of the way, let’s get down to business. Universal Background Checks (to save me some keystrokes referred to as UBCs from this point forward) sound like such a simple and sensible idea. Anyone opposed to them why they’d have to be either protecting criminals, or just be an unreasonable paranoid nut job right? Well like with any political statement the simple solution generally isn’t really so simple, and isn’t really a solution.
Let’s consider the two following situations first a mass shooter, and second general street crime.
Your mass shooter. Generally firearms are purchased by individuals who pass the existing NICS background checks (Aurora Theatre shooting, Washington Navy Yard shooting, Chattanooga military shootings) or through existing failures in the back ground check system (Virginia tech, Charleston Church shooting), or they are sourced from family members (Columbine and New Haven). Many or most mass shooters have shown significant mental stability issues beforehand, several have had issues with illegal substances, but the majority do not have the background that would keep them from purchasing a weapon under current background check requirements. In short, UBCs wouldn’t stop or significantly change mass shooter access to weapons, and would correspondingly not reduce these incidents.
Now, certainly someone who hasn’t committed a crime yet getting access to a firearm must be significantly different from a hardened criminal getting access to one right?
Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario. Jimmy is a two time felon we’ll say assault with a deadly weapon, and possession with intent. Either would invalidate him from passing a background check of any type. Jimmy wants to get a gun for enforcement of his unlicensed pharmaceutical business. He KNOWS he cannot pass a background check, knows it’s not even worth trying so he goes to his pal Rob. Rob has a clean background, and a legitimate job, but runs a nice side business keeping guys like Jimmy supplied with what they want. Rob picks up a few guns every few months, then reports a “break in” to the police where his guns were stolen and then uses insurance money to replace them. Rob sells Jimmy a gun with a $200 mark up. Rob knows Jimmy’s background and doesn’t care. Why not? They BOTH are criminals only one hasn’t been caught yet. A law requiring UBCs isn’t going to stop either of them from this transaction, they both ALREADY know its illegal, but they DON’T care.
Think this is a crazy story that doesn’t really happen? Well let’s look at the common sources of firearms for street crime.
• 39.6% of criminals obtained a gun from a friend or family member
• 39.2% of criminals obtained a gun on the street or from an illegal source
• 0.7% of criminals purchased a gun at a gun show
• 1% of criminals purchased a gun at a flea market
• 3.8% of criminals purchased a gun from a pawn shop
• 8.3% of criminals actually bought their guns from retail outlets Source: http://dailycaller.com/2013/02/11/where-criminals-get-their-guns/
So that’s that 12.1% of those sales SHOULD have gone through a FFL (Federal Firearms Licensed dealer) being a retail gun shop or a pawn shop. Nearly 80% were acquired from either an “illegal source” or from a family member. Less than 2% were person to person sales which are what UBCs are supposed to regulate.
The real problem is that someone else usually purchases the gun for a criminal. Either a friend with a clean enough record (often a significant other), or a family member, or often a designated purchaser who may later report the firearms as stolen to keep themselves safe. This is referred to as a straw purchase, and is already illegal but is very difficult to prosecute. More importantly these individuals know fully well that they are selling to a prohibited person and would have no intent of making the sale legal. In short, UBCs wouldn’t stop or significantly change access to weapons for street crime, and would correspondingly not reduce these incidents.
Ok, so we’re not going to significantly change mass shooting incidents, and we’re not significantly affecting street crime. What are we doing with UBCs then? Well, we’re directly impacting legal firearm owners, who want to sell or trade their firearms.
How does this make life more difficult? Well, let’s say we have Johnny. Johnny bought a rifle legally when he was 18, a 30-30 deer rifle, lever action, scoped, think your grandpa's hunting rifle. Now he lives in an area of his state where he can’t use it nearby and doesn’t want to travel to hunt. Johnny has a young family now, and needs some money back out of his gun. Currently he can take that rifle to a gun shop, or pawn shop, who might give him $150 for it and then they will sell it later for $300. Or he can sell it to his friend Bob who lives nearby who hunts and doesn’t mind the travel for $250. Very similar to selling a car a person to person interpersonal sales of firearms generally work out better for both the seller and the buyer each getting a better deal by cutting out the middle man. If UBCs were mandatory for these fellows to stay legal, and since they both are law abiding citizens they want to, they now have to have a background check performed. How? Do they have to go into a FFL ((Federal Firearms Licensed) dealer? Will he charge them $25 each to do the background check? If he’s not allowed to charge, will he even do checks for interpersonal transfers anymore?
So, let’s talk about enforcement. How do you enforce a law that requires people to act in good faith and take it upon themselves to be law abiding? How can you say that this person got this gun from that guy and had a background check performed? The only way that makes sense is universal registration. Every serial numbered firearm in the US would have to be registered with its current owner, so a history can be made, and every owner will have to renew that registration periodically (lets saty every year) so discrepancies can be tracked. Wow, that was easy. We went from UBCs to universal firearm registration in less than 100 words. Now, before you get all paranoid firearm registration has NEVER been used before for confiscation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_legislation_in_Germany#Gun_regulation_of_the_Third_Reich) not even in this country (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=30001-31000&file=30710-30735). Wow, that was even faster. I hate to say slippery slope, but this incline is pretty low friction.
So lets sum this up. UBCs we agree wont significantly impact mass shooting events, and wont significantly affect street crime. They will directly harass legal gun owners, and they will create an enforcement nightmare with legal consequences you probably don’t want to admit to. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is similar to the ultrasound before abortion bills in some states. You agree something is legal, and you claim you don’t want to stop it, but you want to make it as invasive and difficult as possible because you don’t like it and you want to be a jackass to those who disagree with you.
Now remember that third assumption we made way back 1200 words ago? “Third, you’re not (at least openly) calling for registration and confiscation of all personally owned firearms in America.”? Well either you need to fess up and say “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to see” or you need to realize what UBCs really are a move towards and that your politicians are either naive, or lying about why they want to see them signed into law.
Now this isn't to say nothing can be done. Remember the parts above about how NICS sometimes fails? How most mass shooters have shown mental instability and substance abuse issues? Those are reasonable places to start. Lets revisit our mental health and drug issues in this country. That will do much more to fix any violence issues than UBCs could ever hope to.
Posted by abnormalist at 1:49 PM