Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guns in America: Background Checks

So it looks like the so-called Manchin-Toomey background check amendment will fail to obtained the required majority sixty votes necessary for passage this afternoon, even though most polls show that around 80% or more of the American public supports enhanced background checks. That is just pitiful. Disgraceful. Disgusting. We are witnessing our representatives caving in to the pressure of the NRA and gun rights supporters for whom no gun control legislation is ever going to be acceptable.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on the current gun control laws or on the new bills and amendments pending before the Senate. So what I’m going to discuss below is based largely on what I’ve heard and read in the past. If I’m wrong about something, please let me know. But be specific and provide me with a source.

With that out of the way, let’s think about why enhanced background checks are needed. First, though, let’s look at who the current National Instant Background Criminal Check System (NICS) blocks from purchasing a gun. The existing NICS system blocks a person who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; or
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year

OK. Seems like a decent list. However, it is my understanding (and remember, I’m not an expert) that states haven’t always been the best at putting information into the system, especially with regard to the mentally ill and those against whom restraining orders have been issued for incidents of domestic violence. There is also one glaring omission from the list of people who will be denied the right to purchase a gun: Those on a terrorist watch list. Unless I’m mistaken, the NRA lobbied successfully to keep the terrorist watch lists separate from the NICS system. Thus, we have people in our country who will be prohibited from flying but who can pass a background check for a gun purchase.

So if I’m a former member of the armed services who was dishonorably discharged, then convicted of battering my wife while high on meth, and against whom a restraining order has been issued, how am I supposed to get a gun to kill her and those damn kids? The NICS background check would stop me … probably. What to do, what to do. I know! I’ll just buy my guns at a gun show instead. Or online. Or from a friend or other “private” seller. Quick access to a gun and no background check needed.

Now, thankfully, some states have expanded their background check requirements to gun shows and other private sales. But not all. Not most. And if you live in one of those states, you can probably just drive across the border to a state that doesn’t impose universal background checks. I’ve seen the estimate that as many as 40% of gun purchases are made without a background check. Feel safer now?

And yet it looks like 41 or more senators will vote against a bill to expand background checks, even though that bill doesn’t go far enough to close all of these loopholes (for example, it still allows “private” sales to be conducted without a background check).

The arguments being used against enhanced background checks are, for the most part, idiotic, too.

For example, just this morning I heard Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Utah) express opposition to the current bill because it might be difficult for those engaging in a private sale to get a background check if they live in a small town without a licensed dealer able to perform the check. I suspect that creative minds could find a way around this problem (hint: there’s this new-fangled thing called the Internet). But I note that Republicans across the country seem to be fine with requiring women to travel vast distances, repeatedly, if they want to get an abortion. Remember, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions, like guns, are protected by the Constitution. Sen. Flake also, I believe, commented on the cost of a background check. Cry me a fucking river. What does a background check cost? $10? $25? Seems a reasonable sum to be sure that people who shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns. And again, isn’t it just … um … odd? … that Republicans are upset about a small fee for a background check to buy a gun but have no problem with requiring people who want to vote to be forced to spend money to obtain identification (and the documentation necessary to get that identification)?

Another common objection is that background checks are the first step toward a national registry of gun owners (you know, so that the tyrannical New World Order or the North Korean invasion force can come and take guns away). Well, if the background check system is the first step, then why has it been in place since 1998 without the creation of a national registry? Moreover, just how would that national registry come into being? Wouldn’t, you know, Congress have to pass a law to create it? In other words, the argument is that we can’t do something that might be a better situation now because some legislature in the future might do something more that we don’t like now. Do I have that right?

Some of the objections also seem to be just classic examples of “grasping at straws” or “red herrings” designed to demonize the very idea of background check expansion. For example, I recently read where a gun rights advocate claimed that background checks would prevent a father from leaving a gun to his son in his will. Bullshit. That transaction isn’t a sale. And even if it were somehow within the spectrum of a sale, it would be easy to offer a simple amendment to except out of the background check requirement, a transfer of a gun via probate. There, done. Then again, should a convicted felon who was dishonorably discharged from the military and who regularly beats his wife while high on meth be allowed to get a gun just because it was his father’s and left to him in a will? Another gun rights advocate said that those running hunting lodges wouldn’t be able to loan or rent guns to their guests. First, I’d again note that those transactions aren’t sales. Second, I’d ask why those running the hunting lodge couldn’t avail themselves of the NICS system. I mean what’s wrong with being sure that the person to whom you’re handing that hunting rifle isn’t someone likely to misuse it?

And of course the “best” argument against enhanced background checks is that they’re unnecessary because criminals won’t obey the law anyway. Criminals, the logic goes, will find other means to buy guns, so why burden the good law abiding folk. See any flaws in that logic? First, so what if there is a burden? I suspect most people are willing to be a bit burdened if it might help reduce (note, I didn’t say prevent) the access to guns for people who ought not have that access. We take off our shoes before getting on airplanes. Yeah, it’s a burden and really annoying. But I don’t really mind if it will help keep the plane from being blown up. Perhaps that mentally ill person won’t know of another way to get a gun; perhaps the abusive husband will calm down in the time it takes him to find an illegal supplier of guns. And let’s not forget that most people who use a gun to commit a crime (or suicide) weren’t criminals prior to their use of that gun. They were good, law abiding people. Until they pulled the trigger. But, gee, what other sorts of laws might we subject to this sort of tortured logic. I mean, only criminals would rob banks, right? So why bother with laws against robbing banks? Only criminals would drive at dangerously high speeds, right? So why bother with speed limits? Only criminals would use cold medicine or fertilizer to make drugs or bombs. So why bother restricting access to those compounds? Good law abiding folks would never do something wrong. Hell, let’s just eliminate all of our laws because only law abiding people follow them anyway.

The problem is really quite simple: Some people don’t think that any restriction on access to guns is acceptable. And the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents (who, you’ll certainly recognize want to sell more guns) have to be opposed to anything that might cut into the bottom line. So, because of some gun rights zealots and a powerful lobby, we all have to live with a much greater risk than any civilized society should have to accept.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Those legislators who take campaign contributions from the NRA and related lobbies are taking blood money. They are putting their own campaign coffers above the safety of our children. How many more children, how many more police or firefighters, how many more of our friends and neighbors have to die before our legislators will say “no thank you” to NRA blood money and, for a change, do what’s right for the American people?

But you know what? Unless you pick up the phone and call your Senators and Representative nothing will change. Nothing. Because unless your voice becomes louder than that of the NRA and Ted Nugent and the rest of the gun lobby … well, until then, your and the rest of the American electorate just don’t matter. Your kids, your families, your communities are just meat to be fed through the gun rights grinder and if a little blood is spilled, well too damn bad … at least your Congressional representatives will have full campaign coffers.

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3 Comments:

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