OK, let’s talk about Universal Background Checks for firearms purchases. I see people on both sides of the argument that seem to be ‘stuck on stupid’ about this.Can we have a rational discussion?
There are people that object to this. Some feel that it will inevitably lead to gun registration and in the end confiscation. Others say it won’t help because there are too many alternative avenues for criminals to obtain illegal firearms. But most gun owners that I know object primarily because it’s a pain in the butt and costs money. In Washington State most firearms transfers (transactions which give a person unsupervised control of a firearm that they do not own) must be done through a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL.)
Let’s say I want to buy a gun from a buddy. Instead of simply meeting at a time and place convenient to both of us we have to arrange to meet at a gun store and fill out a bunch of paperwork, then pay them a fee (often around $40.) We’re busy people and live in a city with some of the worst traffic in the country. It’s a pain in the butt, and since we are both law-abiding citizens it isn’t keeping guns out of the hands of a criminal. It feels like a penalty that we haven’t earned and don’t deserve, with the net effect that the gun store makes some money off a transaction that they have no investment in. This isn’t an argument against the practice as such, just an explanation of why a lot of people don’t like it and feel it is unfair.
It’s not hard to understand people objecting to something they feel is unnecessary and unfair, is it? Yet at the same time people who do not have a legal right to own a firearm still transfer guns with no regard for the law, so it’s arguable as to whether or not it’s really helping.
On the other hand I have never been comfortable selling a firearm to a random person with no idea if they are legally allowed to possess it. Generally I sell them to a gun store or on consignment in a gun store, or to people or family members that I know well.
So, what to do…
There is a system in place to do an instant background check- NICS. This allows an FFL dealer to instantly check if an individual is legally entitled to own a firearm. Nothing is perfect but generally speaking it works well. In this state if you have a carry permit- meaning that you’ve already been checked out and can legally possess a firearm- the dealer simply makes a phone call and gets a yes/no answer on the spot. It’s quick, easy and pretty painless, and gun purchasers actually like it. Of course they still have to fill out the forms, because that’s how FFLs work and have for decades.
How about this- while you are advocating universal background checks why not encourage your representatives to fund the expansion of NICs into a resource for individuals as well as FFL dealers? A lot fewer gun owners would object if you make it easy to do an instant, free check to transfer a gun. Instead of meeting at an FFL dealer, filling out time-consuming forms and spending money you simply make a phone call and are provided with an instant answer and perhaps a code to record on the receipt. You get the ‘background check’ without the hassle or expense. A lot of gun owners would welcome this, at least as an alternative to the current system.
All it would take is some money to expand the system and rules that allow it. People that demand universal background checks get them, and gun owners are at least less unhappy and resistant.
Sorry, I know this is a sensible solution that doesn’t cater to knee-jerk positions on either side of the debate, but it’s relatively easy and painless and who knows? It might actually help.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 November 2017