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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Guns Designed To Kill, Or To Save Life?

Those who oppose private ownership of guns often repeat the mantra that “guns are only designed to kill!” The fundamental fact they always ignore is that design and purpose are not necessarily the same thing.

A thing can be designed for one thing, but it may be intended for purposes that are diametrically opposed to its design. Consider nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. They are obviously designed to kill millions of people and create enormous destruction on population centers.

In my lifetime the designers of nuclear weapons in the United States intended to create objects that could kill millions, but the purpose behind that design was not to kill, but to deter the murderously criminal Soviet Union which had as its goal the enslavement of the entire human race. That is not an exaggeration.

The Soviet Union is gone now, but the existence of totalitarian regimes with nuclear weapons is still a reality we cannot ignore.

So it is with many guns. They are designed to kill, but the purpose of the vast majority of people who buy them for defensive purposes is to deter killers and criminals who live in our midst. In essence these gun-owners bought guns designed to kill for the purpose of saving life, not taking it.

Smith & Wesson revolver designed to kill but carried by me to save life if possible.

There is scientific evidence to back up this claim. Dr. Gary Kleck became famous for his research into the defensive use of guns in the U.S. The important takeaways from that research are:

  • The vast majority of incidents are never reported to the police.
  • The incidence of defensive use of firearms is much higher than official crime statistics indicate.
  • Gun owners rarely need to fire their weapon.

Almost always just showing the bad guy you have gun will do the trick. The bad guy will almost always go somewhere else. Criminals prefer victims who don’t shoot back! If one accepts that the real purpose of an object is what it is primarily used for, then the clear purpose of gun ownership for many is not to take life, but to save life.

Another point that many Americans really don’t seem to get is that the police are not their personal bodyguards. Jeffrey Snyder put this very well in his now classic article, A Nation of Cowards:

“Do You Feel Lucky?”

“In 1991, when then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh released the FBI’s annual crime statistics, he noted that it is now more likely that a person will be the victim of a violent crime than that he will be in an auto accident. Despite this, most people readily believe that the existence of the police relieves them of the responsibility to take full measures to protect themselves. The police, however, are not personal bodyguards. Rather, they act as a general deterrent to crime, both by their presence and by apprehending criminals after the fact. As numerous courts have held, they have no legal obligation to protect anyone in particular. You cannot sue them for failing to prevent you from being the victim of a crime.”

“Insofar as the police deter by their presence, they are very, very good. Criminals take great pains not to commit a crime in front of them. Unfortunately, the corollary is that you can pretty much bet your life (and you are) that they won’t be there at the moment you actually need them.

The violent crime rate started rising in the 1960s, peaked in the 1990s and until recently had fallen back to levels comparable to the 1960s. However in the last couple years that trend has reversed and all indications are that we will see that rate continue to go up in the immediate future.

As an American you have a non-trivial chance of being a victim of violent crime in your lifetime. How you plan to deal with that reality says a lot about who you are. Jeffrey Snyder also covered that in A Nation of Cowards:

““Cowardice” and “self-respect” have largely disappeared from public discourse. In their place we are offered “self-esteem” as the bellwether of success and a proxy for dignity. “Self-respect” implies that one recognizes standards, and judges oneself worthy by the degree to which one lives up to them. “Self-esteem” simply means that one feels good about oneself. “Dignity” used to refer to the self-mastery and fortitude with which a person conducted himself in the face of life’s vicissitudes and the boorish behavior of others. Now, judging by campus speech codes, dignity requires that we never encounter a discouraging word and that others be coerced into acting respectfully, evidently on the assumption that we are powerless to prevent our degradation if exposed to the demeaning behavior of others. These are signposts proclaiming the insubstantiality of our character, the hollowness of our souls.”

A lot of people have strong opinions on the issue of guns and using guns in self defense. I recommend reading Snyder’s article from start to finish. It is a classic.

The trend in America for well over a quarter century is the liberalization of laws allowing private citizens to carry concealed handguns in public. There are millions of responsible citizens who do so today. The predicted blood bath from many never happened. That is not an opinion, it is a fact.