Gun Control Debate: Universal Background Checks Aren't Universal

Why is it that people who oppose universal background checks (UBC) for gun ownership get labeled as extremists? Not all people who oppose UBCs are militia-forming, government-hating conspiracy theorists who think that "the government" is out to turn America into a totalitarian regime. Some of us simply know they won't be effective and in fact will only hinder Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.

UBC legislation aims to close firearm sale loopholes at places like gun shows, enacting a universal background to ensure that no one owns a firearm who shouldn't. This includes every transfer, sale, purchase, trade, gift, rental and loan of a firearm between any and all individuals (family and friends included). However, there is nothing "universal" about universal background checks. They only include the citizens willing to follow the law, and those aren't the ones we need to be worried about. UBCs sound so reasonable, so common-sense, but before jumping to that conclusion, examine the history of background checks, their effectiveness, and the laws already on the books. UBC legislation would be ineffective in reducing gun violence and would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens. In addition, the laws on the books that already mandate background checks aren't being enforced: it is useless to add more laws of this type without applying the ones already made.

 The recent tragedies give light to the fact that background checks are ineffective in preventing them. Under current law, it is already illegal to purchase a firearm through a retail channel without a background check. It is already a federal felony to buy and sell firearms and ammunition with having a federal firearm dealer's license; it is also already a crime for a federally licensed dealer to sell a gun without doing a background check that's all dealers, including at retail stores, flea markets, and yes, gun shows. Further, it is already a federal felony for any private person to sell, trade, give, lend, rent or transfer a gun to a person you know or should have known is not legally allowed to own, purchase or possess a firearm. In many states, including New Jersey, New York, and Illinois, background checks are already required for all sales at gun shows, and we don't even have to bring up UBC's lack of effectiveness on their crime rates. Obviously, background checks at gun shows and in private dealings do not stop criminals, and it is foolish to think that expanding this same background check legislation will. Current legislation is not the problem, and more legislation is not the answer.

On February 23, House Republicans signed a letter declaring that it is "imprudent to simply call for more laws, without examining the efficacy of the current laws." Although it is a federal crime to submit false information on a background check, they note that, according to an official Justice Department report, 76,142 gun ownership permits were denied in 2010, with 4,732 cases being "referred to field offices for investigation. However, only 62 prosecutions resulted from these actions." Of those prosecutions, only 13 resulted in convictions. Even when felons do try to buy guns and are marked by the system, they are almost never stopped. Why are we looking at making more stringent laws when the ones we already have aren’t enforced? Vice President Joe Biden answered that question for us: "And to your point, Mr. [Jim] Baker, regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, [background check forms] we simply don't have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately." We don't have the time? Then why is more legislation being pursued when we "don’t have the time" for what’s already in place?

The thriving firearm black market shows that illegal guns in circulation will not be stopped. UBCs will do nothing to keep a criminal intent on harming people from illegally obtaining a firearm on the black market, as many already do. Nearly 40% of crime guns are acquired from dealers in the business of black market dealing. In addition, as seen in recent shootings, often the perpetrators suffered from different levels of mental illness and all had legally obtained firearms. If the laws already in place had been enforced, these tragedies would not have happened. However, because they weren't, these tragedies did take place and no amount of background checks and banning firearms would have stopped them. This is nothing but a backdoor for gun registration records. UBC legislation that has already been enacted allows the government to keep a computerized government registry of gun owners. In fact, Obama's own Justice Department recently reported that the effectiveness of a universal background check system "depends on ... requiring gun registration." In other words, the only way that the government could fully enforce universal background checks would be to mandate the registration of all firearms in private possession, which is something that has been prohibited by federal law since 1986. A gun registry database would do nothing to monitor criminals who obtained guns illegally; it would only allow the government to keep tabs on law-abiding citizens. UBCs will not keep criminals from purchasing guns, and in fact they will only endanger law-abiding citizens and infringe on their rights.

Criminalizing private firearm sales would not have stopped any of the shooting tragedies.  Shootings like the Sandy Hook tragedy were done with legally obtained firearms. The vast majority of crimes are not committed with firearms obtained legally. It is badly misinformed to think that UBCs will stop shootings and prevent criminals from purchasing firearms. We who believe this are not against sensible legislation that will control the violence; UBCs simply aren't that legislation. If the goal were public safety, the government would be focusing on enforcing the laws already on the books. Unfortunately, they are not being enforced by the administration lauding them the most, and it is outlandish to enact more laws thinking it will reduce gun violence. It would be more successful to enforce the laws we already have before enacting more legislation that will swamp the federal bureaucracies, hinder law-abiding citizens, and ultimately do nothing to impede gun violence.