Contributing Editor Stu Chisholm – How To Fix Nics.

NICS

It’s hard to believe that a full decade has passed since the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign.  It seems like yesterday when presidential hopeful, John Kerry, turbocharged the term, “flip-flopping” with his statement to an assembled crowd at Marshall University that “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it,” referring to his vote for funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  That one still gets laughs at parties.  Yet very recently, during the debacle over so-called “universal background checks,” the same “flip-flop” charge was leveled at the NRA.  Why?

Back in 1999, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre testified before a panel of the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of the NRA that background checks were appropriate and should be done.  This stands in sharp contrast to their position in 2013, when the NRA’s Chris Cox called the expanded background check proposal “misguided,” and said that it would not reduce violent crime, “or keep our kids safe in their schools.”  The left-wing media is still crowing, “flip-flop!”

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

In 1998, the NICS system (National Instant Check System) went online, replacing the mandatory 5-day federal waiting period for gun purchases.  The NRA supported the idea overall, sometimes working with legislators to iron out some of the details.  NICS would replace the much hated (by gun buyers) waiting period.  Contrary to popular opinion and/or revisionist history, gun control supporters of the day opposed the idea, not only preferring the waiting period, but wanting to lengthen it.  In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, when it became apparent that records of prohibited persons were missing from the NICS database due to funding issues, the NRA once again worked with legislators to craft the “NICS Improvement Act of 2007.”  According to their website, “The National Rifle Association (NRA) worked closely with Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to address his concerns regarding H.R. 2640, the National Instant Check System (NICS) Improvement Act.  These changes make a good bill even better.  The end product is a win for American gun owners.”  Again, the anti-gun advocates took this as defeat.

To say, then, that the NRA opposes background checks defies historical fact.  Indeed, you might recall the many Sunday morning news pundits during the 2013 hearings and debates on expanding the checks thought that the NRA would eventually acquiesce and support the bill.  They did not.  Again, we must ask, why?

THE OBAMA ERA

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the Obama administration has taken a decidedly anti-gun position, purportedly fueled by emotion in the wake of Sandy Hook and pressure from various anti-gun groups.  The NRA, therefore, rightfully views any changes to current gun law with suspicion.  This was especially true with the 2013 bill.

Crafted by senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), it contained many things that gun owners and the NRA found objectionable.  The first was backdoor gun registrations, which is illegal under current federal law.  The senators went to work on an amendment that blocked any such registry, and again you might recall how gun control groups howled in protest, a registry being a long sought after item on their agenda.  Another provision, however, was not removed: a de-facto tax on every private sale.

The bill would’ve forced all private sales to go through FFL dealers.  This places an undue burden on these businessmen, who would essentially be running transactions for their “competition,” not to mention the man-hours and paperwork involved, so they would naturally charge a fee which could add anywhere from $25 on up.  When another proposal to bypass FFLs and simply allow private sellers access to NICS free of charge was proposed, gun control activists held the line: the fees must not be eliminated!  The obvious reason is to price out buyers of more modest means – often the very people who need armed self-protection the most!  In the end, it came down to a choice between a true life saving measure being implemented or cutting off a small segment of gun buyers, and gun control zealots chose the latter.  As we all know, the bill went down in defeat, to the shock of anti-gun liberals.

CONSERVATIVE CONCERNS

Indeed, not only the NRA, but other groups were concerned about the potential of letting private sellers have access to NICS, citing privacy concerns.  It turns out that this isn’t an issue, since NICS only gives three results to every background check: proceed, denied or delay/hold.  It divulges no personal information to the seller at all.

Yet the attempts of the Obama administration to infringe on 2nd Amendment rights combined with the efforts of two new gun control groups, Gabby Gifford’s “Americans for Responsible Solutions” and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” (and their newly purchased astroturf group, “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America”) has solidified opposition by the NRA and other gun rights groups against any changes to the background check provision.  It has been characterized as “asking government permission” to buy a gun, targeting “you, the innocent gun buyer” rather than criminals.  But is this fair?

An unrelated hot-button issue is “voter ID,” the conservative push to combat voter fraud by requiring voters to prove they are who they say they are.  This seems like a reasonable way to combat such fraud with only a minimal inconvenience to innocent, law-abiding voters.  One might characterize such a measure as a “criminal control” law.  So what I find hard to fathom is why we don’t apply the same logic to background checks?

And that’s the answer: no, those characterizations above are not fair.  The goal is to stop convicted felons and prohibited mental patients from buying guns from legal sources, something we might also call “due diligence.”  Indeed, a determined criminal won’t let this minor roadblock stop him/her, but more apathetic (and less intelligent) criminals may well be stopped.  Additionally, I have to think that most gun sellers would like to know if the person they’re selling to is one of the “good guys.”  Pro-gun groups and responsible gun owners/sellers must, then, change their perspective – that background checks are not “gun control,” but “criminal control” – and demand a viable way to implement a truly universal plan that won’t infringe on access to firearms by honest Americans.

HOW CAN THIS WORK?

The best, most simple plan I heard during the debate reminded me of my local Sex Offender Registry.  I can go online and see the names and locations of all the convicted sex offenders in my neighborhood.  If NICS could also be put online and made accessible to any and all gun sellers, no matter where they were, it would make a true “universal” check system possible.  They could be done anywhere that phone, internet or cellular service is available.  Best of all, FFL dealers would be bypassed in all private sale transactions, so there would be no fees.  As long as the prohibition against a registry remains intact, there is every reason for we People of the Gun to lend our support to the idea.  I think that everyone who wants to see less crime would prefer efficacy over political theater.

For the more staunch among us, I’ll just say this: NICS is a fact of life and is not going away anytime soon.  While the figures might be debated, it’s also been successful in denying sales to criminals, so why shouldn’t we double-down on what actually works?  Hard-core opposition simply makes us look exactly like the inflexible, unreasonable types the media portrays us as being.  I say that effective solutions can ONLY happen when those who know guns best add their expertise and voices to the debate and their focus to the problem of keeping guns out of the wrong hands.  Otherwise, we’ll just end up with bad legislation written by the ignorant.  If you agree that we cannot let the Bloombergs and Giffords call the shots, then write your Congressman and put our plan in front of them.  Write a letter to the editor of your local or national newspaper, magazine or news website and be the voice of reason.  Let us take our place as the true champions of a safer, less violent America.

Until next time, share the knowledge!

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22 thoughts on “Contributing Editor Stu Chisholm – How To Fix Nics.

  1. Sounds good, but…
    What are the details? As a private seller is the completion of the ATF Form 4473 required? If so, who is to keep the form? How long does the form have to be kept? What is the penalty for not completing the form? Who monitors if the form has been completed and completed correctly? How do I know if the person who I am selling the firearm to is truly that person?
    Wow, I could go on and on with question concerning the implementation of having a private firearm sale that requires just calling for a NICS check.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think you have a good idea, but I believe it would be more detailed than simply calling for a NICS check.
    If I call or write my Congressman/Congresswoman I will be asked these questions and many others. I don’t know if I have a good answer for any of them.

  2. Thanks for the great questions, Alan! Obviously form 4473 is for FFLs (federal firearms licensed dealers) only. For a private sale, I don’t see any record keeping as necessary, although I might want a print-out of any approval or denials. Alan Korwin, noted author of the Bloomfield Press, had a similar proposal to mine called BIDS, or Blind Identification Database System, which would retain no information post sale. (See: http://www.gunlaws.com/BIDSvNICS.htm )

    The entire idea being that honest sellers WANT to know if the person they’re dealing with is on the up and up, so this would enable us to sell with confidence. Criminals, of course, never sell through legal channels anyway. The bottom line being that ALL of us, regardless of our party affiliation or which side of the gun control debate we might be on, do not want to see any weapons fall into the wrong hands. Making NICS (or BIDS) available to everyone enables this, but adds no more paperwork to the existing process. Hope that clarifies things.

  3. Thanks, it does help to clarify some. If there is no record keeping then why is it necessary? If I hear you, this would be just if someone wants to check on a potential buyer they may do so. Otherwise for those who don’t want to do a NICS check they don’t have to.
    Good luck on selling that to the anti-gun people.
    P.S. Americans for Responsible Solutions have changed their name. And for Moms Demand Action, isn’t that a silly name. It’s absurd and foolish…sound like an ex-wife organization who are frustrated.

  4. Stu, I have a number of concerns with your piece, but here are a few for now.

    The Obama Administration kept away from gun policy until Sandy Hook and then tried to pass a law that would eliminate the private sale loophole. I would hardly call improved screening of gun buyers, something over 90% of Americans support, “anti-gun”. If this is how all gun owners feel—and I know it is not—we are hopelessly divided as a society.

    You talk about inconveniencing “the innocent gun buyer” as opposed to criminals if we adopted expanded background checks. How do we know who is criminal, violent, mentally unstable, a domestic abuser, a substance abuser, etc. without universal background checks?

    You mock the Moms Demand Action group by calling them an astroturf group. They are actually a group of dedicated volunteers who are trying to reduce the gun carnage in this country, which is up to close to 40,000 Americans a year. Do we have to demonize people with whom we disagree? Isn’t the American way that we agree and respect the right to disagree? Do we have to make them the enemy? Do we need to denigrate them? Is there no hope for compromise in this country? Going forward, I propose we talk policy and stop attacking people and organizations unless they have been shown to engage in illegal or grossly unethical behavior.

    • Hi Tom,
      While I agree with the spirit of your sentiments, as my article points out, it’s not the idea of better background checks that the NRA, and well-informed gun owners/rights activists were concerned about, but HOW they were to be implemented. Whenever there’s a political angle involved, then shenanigans are almost a given. This is no different; they would not give up back-door registration and pricing out the poorer gun buyers for an actual effective policy. That says a lot, don’t you think?

      Focusing on the innocent never makes anyone safer. Ever notice how often, when a criminal is finally caught in something newsworthy, that they have a “long criminal history”? It is the rare exception when someone simply “goes off” without warning. So this is the lowest hanging fruit of effective policy IMO. And yes, we DO have some work to do for mental health professionals to be able to alert authorities to a dangerously mentally ill person without being brought up on charges for HIPAA violations. No solutions will be perfect. That shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can, and steamrolling the rights of law-abiding gun owners/buyers shouldn’t be necessary in any scenario.

      Lastly, while what you say may be true of the average local member, it’s the leadership I question. It is a fact that they’re on the Bloomberg payroll and are not concerned with mincing the fine points of Constitutional protections and the concerns of the pro-gun-rights community. (And they, themselves, do a heck of a lot of “mocking” of US on their web pages, too!) Before we can talk ‘compromise,’ we need to TALK. And by “talk,” I refer to actual 2-way conversation where all parties listen to, and give fair consideration OF, the concerns of both sides. Moms Demand Action, and nearly all other such groups, are every bit as rigid and inflexible as we are described as! And have you ever noticed how, when speaking of “compromise,” ALL of it is demanded of the pro-gun side? I have yet to see any proposal that says, “We’ll go along with this if you lend your support to that” said with any real sincerity. I was hoping that my little article might, in some small way, kick-start such a conversation.

  5. In the year 2012 Moms Demand Action reported raising $2.5 million along with $7.7 million MDA already had on hand and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated a minimum of $50 million, but insists that he’s not undertaking a “battle of dollars” with the NRA. I think Bloomberg claim is a bit disingenuous, since in the 2012 campaign cycle NRA spent about $20 million against MDA and Bloombergs (as well as other organizations) money and yet no significant legislation has been passed in support of Moms Demand Action and/or Mayor Bloombergs desire for stronger gun “control” laws.
    I’ve read polls showing that Americans overwhelmingly support more legislation on background checks for all gun purchases. If this is true why, with all the money and support of the American people, have there been no significant changes towards background checks for all gun purchases?

    • As my article states, even the NRA once supported improving the background check system. The devil is always in the details, and to the NRA, as well as most thinking gun rights activists, forcing all sales through FFLs is a non-starter. There can be no compromise unless this provision is discarded.

  6. Is there anything illegal or immoral about accepting money from Bloomberg or anyone else? The MDA have hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The NRA receives millions each year from the gun industry and contributes tens of millions to campaigns. Your point is a complete distraction.

    Are you doubting the dozens of polls showing support for background checks? There are recent polls showing 95% support. I have cited them in my book. Please provide your sources. The money and gun lobby’s clout is probably the best answer to your question.

    • Why would I doubt said polls? After all, I am ONE of the mythical NRA members that supports improving background checks! Yet you also seem to believe the myth that the NRA is financed by the “gun industry,” when, in fact, they get the majority of their funding through membership dues and private contributions, mostly in the form of fundraisers. The NRA is a gun RIGHTS organization. The gun industry DOES have it’s own lobby, called the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation). This is where their money goes.

      To your first question: YES. Bloomberg is not a mom, and his group is being used by Bloomberg to further HIS aims. While I do not doubt the sincerity of most of its members and volunteers – we may share many common goals – it’s the leadership I question. When they reject a viable proposal that would make background checks more effective and truly universal because it doesn’t include a registry or price out less affluent gun buyers, then one cannot help but be suspicious.

  7. I don’t believe I’ve ever said that it’s illegal or immoral about giving or accepting money. Monthly I give money to organizations. As for hundreds of thousands volunteering for a cause, this is great…this is America. Volunteering is what America is made up of and has been experienced in America since the Great Awakening. My point may be a complete distraction to you, but I see it as just stating facts.

    As for the polls, I have made no disagreement, argument, or debated the polls showing claims that Americans support more legislation. Congratulation on your cites in your book. (I’ll take your word for that one…I know nothing about your book)

    My point is with all the money and support of the American people, one would expect significant changes towards background checks for all gun purchases.
    However, just a few years ago, in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook elementary School, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate failed to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation that included expanded background checks. Millions of dollars were spent supporting the legislation. Any legislation?

    Since Newtown, some state legislature have passed stricter gun safety laws, but twice as many have loosened restrictions. Two Colorado legislators who supported that state’s new gun control legislation were removed from office in a recall election viewed as a proxy war between the NRA and Bloomberg. Where was that 95% support?

    Well over 12 years have passed since hundreds of thousands of “gun safety activists” participated in the Million Mom March on Washington and that effort has fizzled.

    All this being said, “gun control” laws by definition exempt criminals and those with criminal intent. A criminal is a person prone to unlawful activity. Therefore, Malum Prohibitum laws concerning firearms will not prevent a criminal from possessing or using a firearm in a crime.

    What about enforcing the laws currently on the books?
    Example: A woman illegally purchased a gun for her boyfriend, who in turn used the gun to fatally shoot an Omaha police officer. This woman was sentenced to ONE YEAR PROBATION by a federal judge. Maybe all those good people who volunteer their time and resources towards “gun control” could spend some of that time and those resources by putting pressure on those policy makers and the enforcers of the policies/laws to do their job with the 20,000+ firearm laws already on the books.

    • Agreed. I find it irksome that, in many criminal cases, gun charges are often the first thing to be dropped during charging/sentencing negotiations. If we want to get serious about reducing “gun crime,” then we have to get serious about enforcing gun laws.

  8. This is all reasonable, Alan. Enforcement is important and it is the mantra of the NRA: Enforce existing laws rather than enact new ones. Unfortunately, they and their surrogates in federal and state legislatures often stand in the way of enforcement (e.g., limiting inspections of dealers by the ATF). They have also obstructed research for 20 years because they want to suppress the truth about the risks associated with, for example, guns in the home. In Florida, the gun lobby even tried to keep doctors from discussing gun safety with families with young children. They are not as benign as you suggest. This has nothing to do with new laws.

    Please note that those of us who have created roadmaps for gun violence prevention emphasize many measures that have nothing to do with “gun control”. Take a look at the last chapter of my book–it won’t bite. If you order a used version or get it from the library, I get no royalty at all. Just so we can have a conversation. Thank you.

    BTW, many gun deaths are committed by people without rap sheets; i.e., so-called law-abiding citizens.

    • I was with you until you repeated the myth about the NRA obstructing “research for 20 years.” This is worthy of a Mythbusters episode. What they DID do was point out propaganda being churned-out by the CDC back in the 1990s, when then President Clinton was looking for anything to hang his gun control hat on in order to gin up support for his crime bill. At his behest, the CDC began publishing “junk science” (the first time I recall hearing the term) that most other academics easily debunked. So Congress was flooded by calls and letters from NRA members and gun rights activists to take action, and they did. ONLY the CDC was cut off from doing such research. The FBI, Bureau of Justice and many other government and academic entities were never cut off, and continue to do said research to this day. The data are out there. 🙂

      Politricks also played into the infamous “gag order” on doctors. See, doctors weren’t simply informing their patients about “gun safety.” There were cases where doctors refused to see patients who insisted upon keeping guns in their homes. The AMA has taken a decidedly anti-gun-rights position because, like a lot of the general public, they only see the end result of shootings. They don’t parse the facts beyond what they (their members) see. Understanding does NOT make then right, nor does it negate the need to combat misguided policies.

      Your last point is correct; there are a great many “gun deaths” committed by those without a rap sheet. But they’re the minority, unless you refer to the more than 60% of gun deaths that are suicides. Of the remainder, most DO have some sort of criminal or dangerous mental health issue on record. Why, then, shouldn’t we put our main focus here?

  9. So much to say about standing in the way of enforcement, research, and doctors but I’ll keep this one short so you can get the last word.
    I know there are many gun deaths, possibly the majority, committed by people without rap sheets…they are called suicides

  10. Alan, some studies show that up to half of all homicides are committed by individuals with no prior record. Many, but not all, of these are domestic homicides. This is why research and being informed are so important.

    • When researching my book, the studies I saw showed that the majority of “gun deaths” were suicides (slightly over 60%), and of those remaining, less than 4% were accidental (and that number has dropped in the past 4-5 years to new record lows). About 14% were “domestic” (family conflict that escalates), a less than 1% fraction being justified police shootings (justified civilian shootings being a hair more), and the rest being of a criminal nature (gangs, armed robberies, etc.). When both criminal and mental health records are taken into account, if you eliminate suicides, then it makes the “no prior record” shooter a rarity. Yes, they do happen, but as I see it, the lowest hanging fruit – and easiest to intervene – are those with such records. After all, the past is always the best predictor of the future.

  11. Ok, words mean things. What is a homicide and what is a murder?
    This takes me back to our discussion about definitions.
    …Now you get the last word.

    • No, a criminal homicide can be first or second degree murder, negligent and non-negligent manslaughter. Not sure what you are getting at but once again we are getting off topic from the substantive discussions above.

  12. Ok, this is my last word.

    You live in Florida check your states Ciminal Code: 782.04, 782.051, and. 782.065
    No such thing as “criminal homicide.” Homicide occurs when one causes the death of another. Homicides can be divided into many overlapping types, including murder.

    I believe this is why it is so important, when talking on Important subject such as firearms and how they may be related to the death of another, it is so important to have and know definitions.

    This takes me back to Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the defining moment when he rationalized to the grand jury why he wasn’t lying…”It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…

    Words do mean things. Of all people, Tom, as an author you should know how words can be used to influence ones mind. Words have the power to reshape our knowledge and expectations of the world and how we see it. Also, maybe even more important, how words also have effect on “dispositional attitude” in making some people love everything they see and others to hate everything.

    Words do matter — even Barack Obama himself told us, back in 2008. “Don’t tell me words don’t matter”

    However, you are correct, we’re getting off topic and this will be my last “word.” See…words mean things.

    • Alan, I have been teaching and writing about this subject for 40 years. Criminal homicide is the all-encompassing criminological term for what is legally called murder and manslaughter, and in some countries, infanticide. You had stated that only suicides are committed by people without criminal records and I answered that the studies I referred to dealt with criminal homicide. You answered, “That’s called murder” and I explained that criminal homicide can be either murder or manslaughter. One of the most famous books in criminology is Wolfgang’s Patterns in Criminal Homicide. I know that definitions are important but still don’t get what you were driving at. Agreed, let’s leave it at this for now.

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