On Universal Background Checks, Again

As a long-time NRA member, I would support universal background checks for all firearms purchases if it was done the right way. My idea of the “right way” should be acceptable to most gun owners and I would hope it would also be supported by many non-gun owners concerned about firearms ending up in the wrong hands.

Current Law

For those who may not be familiar with current firearms laws in the United States, almost all firearms sales through licensed dealers must be approved through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). One exception that I know of is that in Texas if you have a license to carry a firearm (concealed carry permit) the dealer can accept that without going through NICS. A person in Texas with a license to carry has already undergone a far more extensive background check than is done by NICS.

S&W Revolver
I carry this S&W handgun in Texas.  I have a concealed carry license.

The Problem

The problem in the eyes of many is the sale of firearms between private individuals that do not go through the NICS system. It is debatable just how problematic these sales really are and how much they really contribute to crime and gun violence in the U.S. Nevertheless I would like to suggest a system that could make universal background checks a reality for all legal sales.

One problem many gun owners see with most proposals for universal background checks is the temptation of the government to create a database of gun owners that could be possibly used in the future to implement massive firearms confiscation (like what happened in Australia, so don’t tell gun owners they are being overly paranoid). The system I propose would help protect against that possibility.

The Solution

Why not do a NICS background check on every American when they get a driver’s license or a government id? If the check passed then put a code on the back of the driver’s license indicating the individual can legally buy or possess a firearm.

Now when you go into a store and want to buy a firearm you present your driver’s license and the dealer turns it over and looks at the back to confirm you have already been checked. As a private individual, if I want to sell a firearm, I should ask the purchaser to show me his or her driver’s license. Simple as that. This also helps me not violate Federal law which prohibits me from selling a firearm to someone who is not a resident of my state.

The police conducting occasional “sting operations” to find people who don’t check the license in private sales could lead to a high degree of compliance among citizens who have no criminal intent. For those with criminal intentions, laws are pretty much useless. That is why we have prisons.

The basic idea is that the check is done routinely for almost everyone. When NICS gets a request all they know is that someone is applying for a driver’s license or id. They have no idea if the person will use that license in the future to buy a firearm.

When Bad Things Happen

Sometimes people do things that should cancel their right to buy or possess a firearm. Not a big problem with this system. Take away their license or id and give them a new one without the enabling code. Again, a very simple procedure. As a bonus feature, this could help police determine if a suspect with a gun is legally enabled to possess it.

And Protections

Also obviously there should be strong provisions for a person to challenge the determination that takes away their right to buy firearms. Rights should not be suspended arbitrarily. There should be objective and well-defined criteria. There must be due process of law.

There are probably details in this plan for universal background checks that I haven’t thought of.  I do think the basic premise is sound though. Hopefully, such a plan could appeal to a lot of people, both those who own firearms and those who do not.

Originally posted in 2017

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