Every time there’s a particularly-nasty shooting, one that makes the national as opposed to just the local news, you can count on our elected officials, or at least a couple of our elected officials, to respond by filing yet another new bill that will do this or do that in response to the simple problem that there are people out there who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns.
A case in point? A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday by Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) called the Keeping Guns From Criminals Act, which would make it a felony for anyone to sell a gun to a buyer who could not pass a NICS check. Under current Federal law, someone who buys a gun knowing he will then give it or re-sell it to someone else can be charged with lying on the 4473 form that is used to conduct the NICS check, but conducting a private transaction without NICS is legal in most states. And if the person who buys the gun turns out to be a felon, or a nut, or someone else who shouldn’t have a gun, as long as the transaction occurred in a state that doesn’t require NICS checks for private sales, the seller hasn’t done anything wrong at all.
So Beyer’s bill would de facto extend NICS checks to private transactions, even though a seller could still decide that he wasn’t interested in conducting a NICS check with the particular purchaser of his gun. The press release accompanying Beyer’s bill makes the point of noting that most FFL-dealers will perform a NICS check for a “nominal fee” of $30, and that there are “nearly 130,000 FFLs nationwide” so there’s little cost or inconvenience in running a background check before selling a gun.
I only wish there were 130,000 FFL-holders who could conduct a NICS check. Because if there were, I could have a lot more fun driving around this weekend and going into all those gun shops looking for that one gun which I just have to have. In fact, although Congressman Beyer claims to have gotten his FFL information from the ATF, which regulates all federal firearms licenses, not surprisingly what the ATF told him isn’t true. After all, why should the federal agency that regulates firearms transactions know what it’s talking about?
In fact, as of May 10, 2015, there were 140,313 active federal firearms licenses, but only 55,873 are 01 dealer licenses, which happen to be the only FFL-holders who can run NICS checks. Ooops, I forgot; there are also 8,153 federally-licensed pawnbrokers, and they can also run NICS checks. In the interest of full disclosure, it should also be noted that many of those 01 license-holders don’t actually engage in any kind of retail sales – they use the FFL to purchase guns for themselves and they’re not interested in running NICS background checks for anyone else.
You would think that a Member of Congress intent on curbing gun violence by asking gun owners to conduct NICS checks on private transactions would at least get his facts straight about what a gun owner would be facing in order to comply with this law. You would also think that the ATF, which would love to see an increase in NICS activity because it would give the agency more work and hence, more of a reason to justify its own existence, would give a Member of Congress valid information in order to help him craft a realistic bill. The result of Beyer’s honest and heartfelt response to Charleston will be one thing and one thing only; namely, that the NRA will send something out to its membership warning them of another knee-jerk, insidious effort to grab all their guns. And in this case are they wrong?