One of President Obama’s gun control proposals announced after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary (though a proposal which wouldn’t have done anything to stop that shooting) is universal background checks for all gun exchanges except those between relatives.
This would close the so-called “gun show loophole” in existing background check requirements, but really what it means is that no gun can ever be legally sold, traded or gifted from one private individual to another without needing to go through the federal government.
At Reason, Jacob Sullum explains why that’s problematic:
Although an expanded background check requirement is ostensibly a response to last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, it would not have stopped the gunman in that attack, who used firearms legally purchased by his mother. Even if he had tried to buy guns, it seems he would have passed a background check because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.
That is typically the case in mass shootings, observes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. And if they could not pass a background check, Fox says, “mass killers could always find an alternative way of securing the needed weaponry, even if they had to steal from family members or friends.”
Meanwhile, to make sure that every gun buyer undergoes a background check, the government would need to know where all the guns are at any given time. Although Obama did not mention that little detail last week, The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the administration was “seriously considering” creating a system that would “track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database.”
Second Amendment supporters historically have opposed gun registration, fearing that it could ultimately lead to confiscation, something that has actually happened in places such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, California, and New York City. While wholesale disarmament would be clearly unconstitutional in this country, confiscation of guns that legislators arbitrarily deem unnecessary or excessively dangerous is easier to imagine, especially given Obama’s support for a new, stricter ban on “assault weapons.”
Not only is there concern here for federal gun tracking, let’s also keep in mind what a wet blanket this would represent for gun transactions nationally. How long is a federal background check going to take, especially if the system is loaded down with every private gun transaction taking place between non-relatives in the country? Days? Weeks?
And how easy would it be for the federal government to sandbag gun sales by slowing down the screening process? We’ve seen the Obama administration use that tactic on energy development. Remember the permitorium for off-shore drilling in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? How about the years of delays the federal government has foisted on the Keystone Pipeline?
Why would we believe that the federal government wouldn’t try to hamper the free exchange of guns in the same way? The feds certainly haven’t earned our trust on these sort of issues.