Some thoughts on universal background checks.
Since guns have become a partisan fetish object the legislation is understood to be regulating that object. Actually, the proposed legislation regulates relationships between people.
When you buy a gun from an FFL, it is a commercial relationship between a certain type of buyer and seller. For the seller to be considered legitimate he or she has to be licensed as and FFL with all the rights and responsibilities thereto. The FFL has to keep a "bound book" of every transaction and firearm bought and sold and make his or her inventory and records available to the government for inspection. There are severe penalties for non compliance. For someone to be a "gun buyer" he or she has to verify that they are an upstanding citizen by filling out a 4473 and passing a background check, also with severe penalties for non compliance. If these conditions are not met, the sale cannot be completed and the relationship between buyer and seller will not exist. That's how the regulation of that kind of relationship is done.
Heretofore, transfer of firearms between friends, family, associates or acquaintances were exactly that. It's the same gun, but the relationships between the people are different. Universal background checks will require the redefinition of the relationships between people surrounding the transfer of the gun. That's why exceptions are made for family in the current proposed legislation.
A gun is considered a much more personal object than say, a car or a house. A gun, generally understood to be a handgun, is small enough to carried in one's clothing so is understood in the same context as a wallet or a ring and is considered an extension of one's body as opposed to other personal property like a lawn mower. Also, a gun is understood to be important for the protection of one's person, so it's importance as a safety device is much greater than almost any other thing someone may own. The circumstances under which a gun is designed to be used surround issues of life and death and loom very large in the minds of those who own or transfer them to others.
The problem with a background check requirement for private sales is that it will require us to redefine our relationships with others to transfer the gun. While two people may have any number of uncounted types of human relationships between them from godparent to causal acquaintance, at the point of transfer the relationship has to become one between an FFL and a qualified buyer. Any background check system has to employ chain of custody documentation, penalties for non compliance and a means of prosecuting violators or it will be useless. That system is already in place for FFL's and the law as proposed will use the same verification infrastructure for private sales as for commercial sales. Hence the controversy surrounding "keeping records" and "gun registry" etc.
So the problem with the implementation of universal background checks is that no matter what relationship two people may have, when the firearm is transferred the relationship of "sanctioned buyer and seller" becomes paramount. While that relationship can begin and end between two anonymous individuals in a store, it will not supplant whatever relationship two people may have prior to the transfer. Thus, the regulation requirement becomes intrusive into the private lives of individuals.
Such an intrusion is not, in itself, a bad thing if it results in an improvement in the lives of all. The sociocultural cost benefit analysis of that benefit is done through the political process. Resistance to further firearms regulation from the political right will be near universal, and the intrusion into the private lives of citizens by "big government" will make that resistance particularly intense. Support from the political left will not match the resistance from the right because firearms ownership is not divided along partisan lines and the implications of the legislation will be a factor in liberal gun owning support of the law. Support from the political center will be particularly soft depending on how people feel about the implications of the legislation.
The issue is a difficult one for the political left in light of other important signature policy initiatives we champion. Liberal defense of personal relationships have been a lynchpin of any number of policy initiatives from marriage equality to reproductive rights. Support of regulating relationships between people surrounding the transfer of firearms opens the left to accusations of ideological hypocrisy. Such accusations, whether true or not, will have an impact on the support for the overall Democratic agenda. The question to ask is will universal background checks result in sufficient societal improvement to refute accusations of ideological hypocrisy and deliver a perceptible improvement in people's lives to merit the intrusion into their interpersonal relationships?
Since only a tiny fraction of the firearms in existence are used improperly a universal background check requirement will have a negligible impact on the further reduction of their improper use. The negative impact on the private lives of people who otherwise would do no harm far outweighs whatever benefit it might deliver in the reduction of crime with firearms. Furthermore, the political liabilities of such a requirement may well result in much greater damage because of the damage to much more important and effective aspects of the Democratic agenda that will be impeded because of support for this law.
.....sonny boy could have inherited the Bushmaster without a background check, eh?
100% background checks for firearms transfers...... NO EXCEPTIONS!
Current federal law since 1968 specifies who cannot own a gun (felons, mentally ill, etc). Background checks are one way to confirm that status.
Families are exempt from the background requirements (currently and in the proposed laws) because it is assumed that the formality of a background check is not needed due to the family already knowing the eligibility status of the family members.
The problem with current background-check bills is their method of implementation; they place an unnecessary burden on the seller by making him go to an FFL and watch the buyer be checked. One way to remove this burden is to open the NICS system to the general public. (Lots of pitfalls to this, discussed elsewhere.) An alternative is the method just enacted by New York state. They buyer goes to an FFL to get the background check (and pay a capped fee); the FFL keeps a copy of the check for his records; the buyer takes a copy of the NICS results to the seller.
through my will. Many of the firearms I own are pre-1898 and therefore not subject to background checks but most of them are functional and safe to fire and I sleep a lot better knowing that there is no way any of them will fall into the wrong hands until I'm gone. At one time or another my daughter, son, son-in-law, grandson, and two nephews have all made a pitch for me to give or sell them a gun. I've denied them all even though I know they personally are responsible gun owners. My son is an ex-cop and all of them are hunters.
BTW, I think you are exaggerating the impact that legislator's votes for gun control have on the rest of the Democratic agenda. If I voted for congressmen and senators solely on the basis of their approach to firearms policy I'd probably vote republican much more than I do now. However, as strongly as I feel about these matters, I'm not a single issue voter and there are a lot more things to consider when voting for a candidate than simply voting on the basis of how he or she feels about gun control.
Nor am I a policy expert. So your assessment may be right. But support for the agenda has to be measured against support against it. No policy initiative exists in a vacuum. It might be better to ask whether support for the legislation is as strong as support against it - and how that debate will affect the fence sitters.
Concealed Weapons License holders would be exempt from background checks in private sales as well.
Remember this has to get passed through the House twice and through the Senate twice. I just don't see anything effective making it through the House, we'll see though.
Last edited Wed Apr 3, 2013, 07:50 PM - Edit history (1)
SO ALL gun sales have to go through an FFL. (so we can perserve our personal relationships(???)...fine)
A buddy bet me five bucks and gave me twenty to one odds that I couldn't keep from laughing out loud all the way through. I made it to "I get no kick from champagne..."
Our relationships would not be affected, but there would be an intrusion into people's private lives necessitated by the need for a registry and the process of reporting the transfer. Like I said, such an intrusion is not necessarily a bad thing if it helps.
You did make some interesting points - long but interesting!