The history of requiring background checks for gun sales at Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers (FFL) goes back to the enactment of the Brady Bill in 1994. The purpose of the law was to prohibit felons and others who should not be able to purchase guns from legally buying them. A system was established that required forms at the site of the purchase to be filled out by anyone purchasing from an FFL. The name on the form is then checked through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) which determines whether the person on the form should be prohibited from purchasing. At the time of the passage of the bill, one group of sellers was not included- gun collectors ( private sellers) who exhibit at gun shows. This is the "loophole" that those of us working to prevent gun injuries and deaths would like to close. It would make the law consistent with gun sellers who sell as licensed dealers in stores or gun shows. At this time, there are bills in both the House and the Senate to close the "gunshow loophole". Neither has yet received a formal hearing or vote.
Below are a sampling of the many responses to my questions about background checks. And as I have already mentioned, these are only some of them; some people put their responses up on their own blogs. Some responses did not do anything to further the discussion about the issue, and some were just plain provacative and cynical with no apparent regard for being serious about the topic. But first, the 3 questions I asked:
- Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?
- What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?
- Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to "keep and bear arms"?
And the responses:
- " I do not support background checks for private sales--but would not object to a simple and free system that does not impose record-keeping requirements on me."
- " I believe that if you are not the sort of person who can be trusted with a gun, you are not the sort of person who can be trusted without a custodian. If someone is a criminal, he should be in jail. Assault, whether domestic or not, is a crime. They should be treated no differently than any other criminal. Terrorism is a crime. Convict them and jail them too. Finally, the dangerously mentally ill. There are procedures available to commit them to mental institutions. Unless you are willing to commit them to the care of medical professionals, you really don’t think that they are dangerous, do you? You will see that there is a pattern here. Instead of bothering me with gun laws, round up the dangerous people and confine them."
- " I do not believe a process that only verifies that I have not had my right remove is a violation of my second amendment right but I do think it is a violation of my fifth amendment rights if information is collected about me during a background check or gun purchases."
- " I don't think it can be done short of a complete ban on guns, and that will only keep guns away from the less dedicated ones. All the other gun-control measures your organization advocates will fail to prevent access, just as our past century of gun control has. Background checks are childishly easy to circumvent (_everybody_ knows somebody with a clean record). As is true in most cases, the best we can do is hope to deter bad behavior by being good at reacting to it. "
- " Until we have powerful wizards that can cast spells on these individuals so that any gun they touch turns to dust ... this is impossible. And even if you keep guns away from them, can you keep truckloads of fertilizer, boxcutters, or heavy vehicles that can be rammed into crowds of people out of their hands? Dangerous people don't care about the law and don't mind stealing what they can't get legally.
But people don't become "dangerous" because they are able to find a gun; people become dangerous because they're mentally tweaked, and if history proves anything it's that violent people who want to kill will find a way. Here is my post on non-gun mass murders."
- " I actually don't have a problem with a background check per se. I do have a problem with the government knowing where every gun is and who owns it. That would invalidate the political protections of the 2nd amendment. Would you anti-gun types consider background checks and a promise to then destroy every record that the check took place?"
- " I don't think constitutional rights actually mean anything in the real world, other than being a placebo for real rights. However, the law must be consistent, or confusion results. Having the base document of your government say that the government absolutely will not infringe on the personal ability to buy, own, and bear weapons and then having it be heavily regulated in practice, as it is now, with whole swaths of different weapons being restricted or entirely prohibited, creates unacceptable confusion and friction. If I had my preference, however, I would err on the side of personal liberty, as it taxes the executive far less than the alternative, and leaves them free to do important things, like keep the borders secure and stop crimes."
- " Only those with felony convictions should be denied any constitutional rights. Since there is no evidence that “background checks” prevent convicts from obtaining weapons, and considerable evidence to show that they interfere with the lawful transfer of firearms, I oppose them on principle. "
- " Let's define criminal first -- how about the people who get parking tickets or the people who are arrested peacefully protesting an injustice; they are criminals along with the people who cheat on their taxes or import crab in the wrong type of bag. Personally, I think that if a person can not be trusted with a firearm, they shouldn't be on the street."
- " Why is the Right to keep and Bear Arms treated so differently by your crowd. Can't be "public good"; you don't apply the same restrictions to those convicted of drunk driving, of drunk in public or fraud or thousands of other crimes."
- " I do not believe it should be legal for convicted criminals to purchase guns. I do not think it should be think it should be a legal requirement to provide the government with information on gun purchases or ownership unless the government is barred from using that information against the person providing it. I do not have a problem with an easily and freely accessible database of prohibited buyers."
- " A background check by itself, no. But I'm not convinced they can be implemented without--as the current system does--seriously burdening the market, driving up prices and driving down accessibility, which we don't generally regard as acceptable where Constitutional rights are concerned.
Can you imagine an advocacy group dedicated to stamping out illegal use of expression (like libel and inciting riot) by pushing for background checks on books, which required all book sales to go through licensed dealers, banned the transfer of books by mail order (so that you can only buy online by having it shipped to your local licensed bookstore and paying them a transfer fee), and outlawing the interstate purchase of political and religious books (which, of course, are responsible for the greatest percentage of book deaths)? This is made worse by the fact, again, that background checks don't and can't _work_. There will always, always be straw buyers. "
- " I have Just One Question for you: Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?"
- " I believe convicted felons should not be able buy or own firearms."
- " For me ... I think the current system of background checks for new gun purchases and civilian gun exchanges done without is the best we can do. I think there should be sufficient online and freely available resources that civilians can do background checks on potential buyers (a person's status as a convicted felon is NOT considered private and is available in various ways) as I and other gun owners have no desire to sell to criminals. And there should be a penalty for knowingly selling a firearm to a prohibited person (which there also is). Other than that ... unless we come up with some scarlet letter for dangerous felons to wear around for all to see, we've done as much as we can."
- " But the real problem here is that the "100% background check" (no background check, no gun, no excuses) Brady goal is really just a means to an end, with the end being 100% gun registration. I have no problem with a background check that is performed and then the results tossed out. But then ... how do you prove it was done at all after the fact and enforce laws that require it? You have to accept that you can't."
- " I hate to answer a question with another question, but to what purpose does this question serve? If I had the knowledge of all the criminals and domestic abusers in the world, and I had the ability to prevent them from getting firearms I would do so. However, I might as well wish for the ability to remove evil in the world, as many things are felonious that are quite silly indeed (for instance, smoking pot. We do not charge those of age with felonies when they drink alcohol or, say, imbibe salvia, so why should anyone who's smoked a joint and gotten caught prohibited from owning a firearm?), and many people I would prohibit from owning firearms (like those who can't keep their stinking finger off the stinking trigger) who are nonviolent nonfelons. Further, even if I could keep every person I deemed unfit (and none I deemed fit) to handle a gun from owning on legally, there is no way to keep them from owning them illegally, for further evidence of this, see Mexico and our own analog with the drug trade. Finally, I must ask, why are we letting people out of jail who we have deemed so irresponsible that we wish to prohibit them from owning high-energy yield devices? If I cannot trust a man with a gun, a car, a chainsaw, a knife, or anything else, why is he out of jail?"
- " I don’t think that criminals (by which I assume you mean violent felons, not misdemeanants and non-violent offenders; I see no justification for disqualifying the latter groups from gun ownership) and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns, full stop. I think they should be in jail. I don’t want people who’ve been adjudicated a danger to society running around loose; lock them up until we’re convinced that they won’t reoffend."
This editorial points out how background checks can save lives. Most of the comments above do not agree that background checks would make a difference and are opposed to background checks on all gun sales at gun shows. I remind my readers that these background checks would not change much for law abiding citizens who intend no harm with a gun. Background checks are required by Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers. Buyers expect to do the paperwork for the background checks from an FFL so it wouldn't be that different if the paperwork was required on all sales at gun shows. There are usually many private sellers at gun shows, some of whom sell large collections of all types of firearms, as I have pointed out before. Recent reports and under cover videos show how easy it is for anyone to purchase a firearm from a private seller at a gun show with no background check. It has been estimated by the ATF that gun shows provide up to 30% of traced crime guns. It seems to me that the protests about closing this loophole are overreaction. As long as someone can pass a background check, they should have no reason to be opposed to being required to have one for any purchase of a firearm. The public has shown in poll after poll after poll over many years, that they favor this measure. It makes common sense to me.