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.
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!