As usual, Mother Jones is all about pushing new gun control proposals. Their latest article on the subject uses a Pew research study to push forward the idea that there are some “common sense gun control proposals” that we can all agree on, no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. There’s just one problem: the proposals presented in the poll bear no resemblance whatsoever to the legislation that has been proposed on the subject. Here’s why these numbers don’t match up with reality . . .
Background Checks for Gun Shows and Private Sales (79% R, 88% D)
On its face, the idea that every gun sale would be accompanied by a background check sounds like a good idea. There are very few people who would argue that convicted felons and domestic abusers shouldn’t be barred from purchasing firearms, but, as always, there’s a catch.
The NICS system is flawed to begin with. While violent convicted felons shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun ever again, what about non-violent offenders? There’s some strong support for decriminalization of gun ownership for those individuals, since the right to keep and bear arms is a human right after all. And that doesn’t address the problem with domestic abuse cases and how they are currently handled, namely the mere accusation of domestic abuse is enough to disqualify someone for life with no recourse.
NICS issues aside, we have seen more than a few of these proposals come up in Congress in the last few years. The most famous, the Manchin-Toomey bill, was proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Yet as written, it didn’t address a single aspect of that tragedy that could have prevented or mitigated it.
There have been others since, but they always seem to follow the same pattern. The problem most people see with such “universal background check” proposals is that they would pretty much make it illegal to share your love of shooting. Let me give you some illustrative examples.
- You’re out on your buddy’s ranch and he wants to try your new gun. If you hand it to him, you have performed an illegal transfer making both of you felons.
- You want to buy your buddy’s gun. The nearest gun store is not happy about having to do transfers for individuals rather than selling from their own stock, and in response they have hiked up the transfer fees they charge to 50% of the cost of the sale. Without any government restrictions on the price of transfers, every gun store in town does the same.
- You live on a ranch 100 miles from the nearest gun store. You want to buy your buddy’s gun, but the trip to the gun store plus the transfer fee would cost more than the gun itself including gas and time invested.
Those are just some of the practical issues related to universal background check laws. The theoretical issues are even greater, since the Manchin-Toomey bill would have opened the flood gates for government entities to start compiling a master list of gun owners. Most gun owners agree that the first step towards confiscation is registration, as evidenced in California. If there were a way to perform a background check without a paper trail and without a fee, I doubt there would be any remaining significant opposition to the proposal.
Laws to Prevent Mentally Ill from Buying Guns (81% R, 79% D)
Another superficially great idea. Every time there’s a mass casualty event involving firearms it seems the mental health of the perpetrator is a major contributing factor. While it would be great to have a way to screen out such potentially dangerous people, that proposal comes with a couple of sticky issues.
The first potentially fatal flaw is the fact that the definition of “mentally ill” isn’t exactly set in stone. To illustrate exactly how subjective that phrase can be, there’s an entry in the DSM (the bible of diagnostic psychology) that makes the use of caffeine a qualified mental disorder. So in theory, if you’ve had more than one cup of coffee this morning then you are “mentally ill” and owning a gun would be illegal.
That same ambiguity is the reason why we’ve seen some disturbing gun confiscations in California (and attempted confiscations by the VA) from people who no one would qualify as “mentally ill.” The concern is that the ambiguity could be exploited by those who simply want gun owners extinct to make gun ownership technically legal, but practically impossible.
Another problem is that the further stigmatization of mentally ill individuals would be a massive barrier to care for gun owners. If the consequence of going to see a psychiatrist could be that an ATF agent comes to your door to confiscate your guns, how many gun owners would actually seek treatment for their potential mental health issues? I’ll give you a hint: none.
Just look at the way pilots see doctors for proof of this concept. Pilots need a valid medical certificate to fly an airplane. If any one of a vast array of medical conditions pop up then their medical certificate could be revoked at any time. Even if they don’t have a problem the docs can still make the process painful and costly — one of my friends recently had a traumatic experience with the suicide of his friend, and the AME is making him go through thousands of dollars worth of psychiatric observation before even considering his medical. As a result, pilots regularly visit “under the counter” doctors for their medical conditions rather than seeking the most competent care in order to avoid any entanglement with the FAA. The results of such stigmatization can be deadly.
Federal Database to Track Gun Sales (55% R, 85% D)
Like I said, gun owners tend to be very private people who don’t like the idea of a federal gun registry. That has become painfully obvious in places like New York, with most gun owners refusing to register their legally owned guns.
The Canadian government has maintained a firearms registry for some time, but they recently decided to scrap it since it turned out to be less useful than the hard drives it was inscribed upon. The idea that an American version would be any more effective, especially given the reluctance of gun owners to voluntarily register their guns, is patently insane.
Even if such a registry were complete and useful, would it actually do anything to stop “gun violence” or bring down the murder rate? Research indicates that 80% of guns used in crime come from either a family member or a “street” illegal source. So, if the guns in the system are already illegal (or rather, a background check and tracing would have no impact on their availability), then how would attaching a name to the guns make them any less available? There’s an argument to be made that the ability to trace a gun back to its source would make participating gun owners and straw purchasers less likely to go along with the scheme, but that can already be accomplished by tracing the gun through gun store sales records and 4473 forms.
So really, the proposal wouldn’t have any appreciable impact on “gun violence” and has a real possibility to empower the government with the ability to confiscate firearms at will if they so choose. Which is a bad thing in the eyes of most gun owners.
So What’s The Deal?
Every single time a new gun control proposal comes out, the usual suspects immediately champion it as the silver bullet that will save lives with common sense. And every time their legislation meets an untimely demise they claim that the reason it failed was that their “common sense” proposal was murdered by the “evil gun lobby” for no apparent reason. But we all know that’s not the case.
I like to use an illustrative example as to why this happens to legislation that is ostensibly supported by both sides of the aisle. Back before the recent supreme court ruling, any Democrat would have jumped for joy at a bill with a title like “The Marriage Equality Act” which would make same sex marriages legal nationwide. But tell them that there’s a $50,000 per person per year tax for “administrative purposes” for such marriages and support for the measure becomes somewhat more lukewarm. Gun control legislation is the same way: the title sounds good and polls well, but the details make it impossible for gun owners and average Americans to swallow.
Until people like those on Mother Jones’ editorial staff finally start actually reading legislation to see what’s in it instead of relying on the title and ideology to determine whether they support it or not, they will never understand this concept. And that’s a sad state of affairs for journalism in America.