Down the Ballot

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Background Checks Lose out to Politics

Well, tougher background check standards lost out by 4 votes in the United States Senate yesterday. For all the handshaking and meetings the Newton families held with lawmakers it just wasn't enough to overcome long held fears and questions of the constitutional rights of gun owners. Let's get one thing clear from the get go. I come from a family of gun owners, I target and skeet shoot in the summer. I have no qualms with anyone wanting to purchase a firearm. At the same time I recognize that we do a horrible job of managing our guns. It is this mismanagement that allows for people who shouldn't have guns (i.e. criminals, and mentally unstable, and the uneducated) to get their hands on guns.

The Toomey-Manchin background check amendment was an acceptable start to putting our personal armories in order. It should not have been considered the final word on the subject of background checks. Most folks in opposition to background checks cited one of two or both of the following arguments.
#1: Background checks don't prevent  people from committing gun violence. 

or

#2: Expanding background checks will ensnare law abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional rights.

Let's take a look at argument #1 for a moment and really think about it. What is the point of a background check? In most cases the background check is designed to ensure law abiding citizens can make a purchase safely. Person X wants to purchase a gun from Seller Y (in most cases, where background checks are common, Seller Y is a retail store like a WalMart, BiMart or other sporting goods store or a federally licensed gun dealer). Before Seller Y can finalize a sale, they must take some information from Person X and send in a background check request from (at least in Oregon) the State Police. This can take upwards to three days, but usually just a day is needed. After the background check is approved, Seller Y can finalize the purchase. Seller Y makes some money and Person X gets a firearm.

Very simple, very efficient process for purchasing a gun from a retailer. No one's constitutional rights are being prevented from being exercised. That is, unless, your name is flagged because of the background check. The retailer then simply tells the individual 'I can't sell you a gun.' It is up to the individual at that point to work through the issue with the state police. The retailer doesn't care why you were flagged, they just know they can't sell you a firearm until the issue is resolved.

Having police officers on every street wouldn't prevent people from committing crimes, yet we still appreciate having police officers, firefighters, and other first responders to help deal with emergencies that come up. They are a valuable tool in the fight against violence and we continue to look for ways to improve them. That's all the Toomey-Manchin amendment would have done. Improve and build upon existing measures already in place.

Here in Oregon, if you want to buy a gun from a private party that is not a federally licensed gun dealer (like the dude at the gun show) you have to go through the same background check. It is no longer of a process than if you went to your local BiMart. Does it seem inconvenient to some law abiding citizens? Perhaps. Does it help cut down on gun violence? Yes, just as having some kind of law enforcement in the community dampens the sinister forces of humanity that would exist in the state of nature. There is no one quick fix to gun violence. Which seems to be what opponents of the amendment want us to believe.

Argument #2 is funny, because if you are a law abiding citizen a background check should be no problem. The Toomey-Manchin amendment laid out all the various family exemptions of having to do a background check. The best way to think about what situation merits a background check is if you don't know the person selling you the firearm; found them through an ad of some kind at a gun-show; church bulletin board; yoga class; craigslist post; or number on a bathroom stall; you need a background check! Even the NRA got a finger waved at them for claiming that the amendment would criminalize family and friend exchanges.

Take on the role of the seller for a moment. Would you want to sell a firearm to someone you didn't know? I hope not without a background check. What if the firearm you sold was used to rob a bank or shoot someone? Unlike a corporation you probably don't have a massive legal team at your disposal to defend yourself against a lawsuit from the victims of the families.

The constitutional questions get murky. Does 'bearing arms' mean the same as 'purchasing arms'? I'm not a constitutional lawyer so I won't even start to get into that argument. Even still, background checks are not preventing you from buying a firearm, they just delay instant gratification for those that pass the background check.

By making such a stink over the background check system that we have; we are avoiding the real issue of preventing gun violence. I agree. We could save a lot of time just by implementing a universal background check system. If you want to buy a gun from anyone, there should be a simple way for you to go online and enter some information and get the check for no cost. That's right, the government should provide access for free. I'm sure aside from the expansion or creation of a new government 'list', having the government pay for it will also irritate people.

Politics beat out common sense this week. Maybe next week things will be different. As one of my college philosophy professors said the very first day of my very first philosophy class, "If at first you don't succeed, redefine success."

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