Universal Background Checks Revisited

I am a long time NRA member and 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-gunowners concerned about firearms ending up in the wrong hands.

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.

Universal background check was used to buy this gun
The S&W model handgun I can carry in Texas because I have a license

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 backgrounds checks a reality for all legal sales.

One problem many gun owners see with most proposals for universal background checks is the temptation of 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.

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 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. If I, as a private individual, want to sell a firearm then I ask the purchaser to show me his or her driver’s license. Simple as that. (Note 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 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.

Sometimes people do things that should cancel their right to buy a firearm. Not a big problem with this system. Take a away their license or id and give them a new one without the enabling code. Again, a very simple procedure.

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 but only when based on 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, but I do think the basic premise is sound. The most important part of such a plan is that it could appeal to a lot of people, both those who own firearms and those who do not.

 

Universal Background Checks

Universal background checks for gun sales could be done in a way that many gunowners could support.
Universal background checks for gun sales could be done in a way that many gunowners could support.

Universal background checks for firearms purchases is one of the more common mantras of the gun-control crowd. Currently almost all purchases of a firearm through a licensed dealer require a background check through the FBI. One exception, at least in Texas, is that no background check is required for holders of a Texas concealed carry permit. The problem, at least in the eyes of some, is that private sales between residents of the same state do not require any background check in many states. Note though that Federal law prohibits private sales between individuals from different states.

Reasonable people, even 2nd Amendment advocates like myself,  do have valid concerns about firearms falling into the hands of criminals and the mentally insane. But many reasonable people also have valid concerns about government overreach and they have the examples of the U.K. and Australia where mounting regulations, registration, and requirements for firearms purchases eventually led to bans and confiscation.

Is there a way to satisfy both demands? Is there a way to potentially satisfy the rational concern about unfit people legally purchasing firearms and the equally rational concern about government abuse of a Constitutional right “to keep and bear arms”?

There is.

Not all people will be totally satisfied but perhaps a majority can feel that not only are they doing something about gun violence, they are also not giving even more power to government. That government through the NSA has already shown little respect for individual privacy. That government through the IRS has shown a blatant willingness to inject political favoritism in the denying or delaying tax-exempt status to un-favored Conservative and Tea Party organizations.

So how could we accomplish this and meet demands of safety and not growing government? How about universal background checks? Create a system where everyone gets a background check whether or not they ever plan to buy a firearm. Encode the result on the driver’s license or state id.

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