All of a sudden, two of the blue-team candidates, Cory and Pete, are talking about something which has never been even so much as whispered in a national political campaign, namely, a federal gun licensing system. This is kind of like a driver’s license for gun ownership, except in this case the license will be issued by the feds. It’s still something of a halfway house, because such a procedure wouldn’t require gun owners to register their guns. On the other hand, if you combine national gun licensing with universal background checks (UCB) you’re almost there. Not quite, but at least almost.
All of this new-found political concern about gun violence should be a sweet tune to the ears of gun-control advocates and advocacy groups, but I’m not so sure. In fact, in the process of moving from being marginal to central in the gun debate compared to the ‘other’ side, there’s a good chance that this transition may provoke splits and arguments within the gun-control movement itself. After all, when nobody’s listening, it doesn’t really matter whether this group agrees with that group. But when every gun-control group now finds itself being heard and can use its new-found voice to grow its influence and organizational strength, all of a sudden the last thing you want to do is sound like everyone else.
Last week our friends at Everytown announced they were sending a questionnaire to all Presidential candidates asking them where they stand on 18 different gun issues: background checks, assault weapon bans, the usual gun-control things. One of the questions they did not ask was where candidates stood on pre-purchase gun licensing, which is known as permit-to-purchase, i.e., PTP. The reason this question wasn’t on the Everytown list is because, according to John Feinblatt who runs Everytown, PTP procedures, including Corey’s idea for a national licensing system, “has not been fully researched and proven to have public support.” This statement immediately drew criticism from some self-appointed gun experts in the gun-control community, who are now lining up behind a PTP law that was recently introduced.
Except there’s only one little problem with the gun-control activists who think they can support PTP to increase their own presence while taking Everytown down a peg or two. When it comes to whether or not PTP‘s value has been shown true through evidence-based research, Feinblatt’s hesitation happens to be correct. The PTP procedures haven’t been fully researched, partly because the definition of PTP happens to differ significantly from state to state. In New Jersey, every separate purchase of a handgun requires approval from the cops. In Connecticut, you get one license from the state police whether you buy a gun or not. The fact that Connecticut’s homicide rate is lower than other comparable states without a PTP process doesn’t mean the difference is due to PTP. Possible? Yes. Definitive? Absolutely no. At least not yet.
The PTP bill just filed by Congressman Raskin (D-MD) authorizes the Department of Justice to make grants to states that enact some kind of PTP law which will only allow handguns to be purchased if the applicant passes a background check with fingerprints and is 21 years or older. The bill, however, does not require any licensing authority to determine whether the applicant really needs to own a handgun, the whole point of PTP being that the cops should get to decide the fitness of handgun owners based on something more than whether they can pass a background check.
Before gun-control advocates jump on the PTP bandwagon, they might take the trouble to understand how PTP laws work and don’t work. On the other hand, making your voice louder in any advocacy community doesn’t necessarily require that what you say bears any relationship to the truth. If you yell loud enough, someone will respond and join your parade. Trump proves that one true every day.