Although there are some fringe elements in Gun Nation who claim that their ‘right’ to own a gun is unlimited, usually based on some kind of eternal recognition that self-defense is ordained by God, even the most strident pro-gun voices will admit to some degree of regulation when it comes to owning guns. And the regulation that is usually proffered as being acceptable to the gun crew is the basic regulation which is in force right now, namely, a NICS-FBI background check that only takes place at the initial point of sale.
The argument that is usually advanced to restrict background checks to initial gun transfers is that imposing secondary background checks on law-abiding gun owners is a slippery-slope that will eventually lead to gun registration, and we all know that registration leads to confiscation, which leads to the Holocaust, which leads to God knows what else. And it’s pretty difficult to find anyone on the pro-gun side of the argument who won’t tell you that all those people who claim to support the 2nd Amendment but want to expand gun regulations aren’t anything other than wolves in sheep’s clothing looking for some way or another to get rid of all the guns.
If Gun Nation is looking for some kind of ‘proof’ that gun-control advocates are a threat to their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights, they need not look any further than an op-ed which appeared today in The New York Times. Authored by Professor Lawrence Rosenthal and Abner Mikva, the latter a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the commentary argues that while the 2nd Amendment precludes the government from preventing private ownership of guns, it does prevent government from enacting more expansive gun-control laws. Citing the 2008 Heller decision, the writers believe that if citizens can keep guns in their homes, then the phrase ‘well-regulated’ refers to this form of ownership, hence, additional gun-control measures can and should be invoked.
It would be difficult to find fault with this argument if Rosenthal and Mikva made their case based only upon an extension of NICS checks to secondary sales. Their comment in this regard, that the “entire secondary gun market is a vast regulatory void,” is not only true but has become more true as the internet has stretched private gun transactions far beyond the local gun show. But the argument doesn’t rest there, because Rosenthal-Mikva then swing effortlessly into a discussion linking expanded background checks to universal gun registration, as if coupling the latter to the former represents no great difference at all. Here’s the way they put it: “A comprehensive system of background checks and registration would not prevent law-abiding people from obtaining guns for purposes of lawful self-defense.”
When all is said and done, one could posit a similar thought for just about any kind of gun regulation which didn’t keep law-abiding individuals from owning guns. But in gun circles, the word ‘registration’ is so toxic that once you introduce it into any discussion about regulating guns, you are guaranteeing that the discussion will quickly come to an end. And in addition to the political implications of registration, studies on the effectiveness of gun registration as a means to reduce gun violence have basically found the results of registration strategies to be inconclusive because there aren’t enough case studies to prove either the pro or the con.
I’m not opposed to registration because I believe the ‘slippery-slope’ argument has no basis in history or fact, and I’m somewhat old-fashioned because I side with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said that public policy should be based not on opinions but on facts. But in that context I wish that Rosenthal and Mikva could have been a little more sensitive to the manner in which the gun violence debate plays itself out. Advocating gun registration as just another, sensible regulation is a little bit like walking into the lion’s den and sticking your head into the lion’s mouth.