There’s a huge push for nationwide “universal background checks” (or UBCs) right now. Some people may call them variations of the term such as “stronger” background checks or “improved” background checks or “enhanced” background checks. There are many terms for the many different kinds of new background checks that are proposed, but most of the proposals are impossible to enforce, proven to not work, aren’t followed by criminals, or even involve checking for factors that don’t involve a conviction of a crime.
What is a Universal Background Check?
It’s difficult to point to exactly what a “universal background check” is because each proposal for these types of background checks vary from each other. So I will have to speak in general terms.
Universal background checks are laws that prevent the sale of a gun from one person to another without a background check. Right now, in many states, two people can meet up and sell a gun to each other. No paperwork, just an exchange of goods and payment for said goods – the American Dream. This is called a person to person gun sale (More about person to person gun sales later). A Universal Background Check would prevent that, requiring the sale to go through a middle man, a licensed firearms dealer (often called a FFL).
This sounds good in practice – who doesn’t want to perform a background check on gun sales? Only criminals wouldn’t want to run a background check, right? Wrong – if only it were that simple. Honestly, I really wish there was a simple solution.
The problems with universal background checks
Universal background checks are unenforceable without a gun registry. It’s just a simple fact. Without a record of who has and hasn’t purchased a gun and who does or doesn’t own that particular gun.
The NICS background check system is incomplete and full of false positives. The NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) is the system used to run background checks to determine if someone is legally allowed to purchase a gun. Law abiding citizens will (and do) get their gun rights denied because of clerical errors or because they happen to share a name and similar info with a criminal. Similarly, the data in the system is incomplete, resulting in criminals getting approved to purchase when they shouldn’t have – just like the Texas Church Shooter. 19 states have provided fewer than 100 records, meaning the entire system can’t be completely trusted. This is a problem that should not be ignored and these flaws with the system should be fixed – how it should be fixed is a hotly debated topic for another time, this article is long enough as it is.
Background check fraud isn’t prosecuted. No really, a fraction of one percent of background check fraud was prosecuted in 2009. What’s the point of requiring background checks if people who break the law with the system aren’t prosecuted at all? Why should we be passing new laws when we don’t even enforce the current ones? How about we start by punishing people who break our current laws, see what happens, then talk about passing new laws?
Background checks don’t stop determined criminals. Criminals don’t purchase their guns through legal means, so requiring background checks won’t stop them. This has been proven by looking at where criminals get their guns and in data from states who have passed universal background checks – but more detail on that just a little further down.
Universal background checks are hypocritical. Yes, you read that right – hypocritical. If requiring a background check for guns will save lives, why not a background check on anything that takes lives? Automobiles kill more people than malicious gun deaths, so why not require background checks to purchase, transfer, rent, or loan a car? Alcohol related deaths are more common than gun deaths, so why not require a background check to purchase or “transfer” alcohol? Knives are used in violent crime to kill, rob, and rape – why not require a background check for knives?
Thanks to 3D printed guns, anyone can make a gun in their own home. Criminals already bypass existing background checks and even universal background checks in states that own them. But they can also make their own guns with relative ease. So how would universal background checks do anything when they are so easily bypassed?
Universal background checks have been proven to do nothing
No really. California had their Universal Background checks for 10 years. A study showed their UBC had no impact.
The study found no net difference between firearm-related homicide rates before and during the 10 years after [universal background checks] policy implementation.
So if we need to just do something to save lives in America, shouldn’t we be doing things that actually reduce crime and save lives? Doing something for the sake of doing something is counterproductive – we must take steps to save lives and reduce violent crime that actually work. There’s a bunch of suggestions on how to do exactly that at the end of this article.
Universal background checks can’t be enforced without a registry
Want to know why universal background checks don’t work? First off, criminals don’t go through the legal process – they already get their guns through other means. But mainly, a universal background check cannot be enforced on its own. Universal background checks cannot be enforced without a gun registry. Our current background check system already only prosecutes background check fraud less than 1% of the time as previously mentioned – so how would this new background system change anything? How could this new background check system prove whether someone went through a background check or not? It can’t – not without a registry.
Contrary to popular belief, Americans (in most states) don’t have guns registered to their name. Yes, that means your favorite cop TV show talking about whether someone has a gun registered to their name is lying to you.
A gun registry is nothing but a list of citizens who are exercising their 2nd Amendment rights – a list of Americans who are exercising their rights is straight up un-American. Imagine if the FBI created a list of all Americans who voted and required passing a background check and showing an ID to vote. Or what if the FBI kept a record of anyone who attended a protest and required a background check in order to attend the protest in the first place! There would be outrage – and there has been lots of outrage when the government attempted to do those exact things. So why is one constitutional right treated differently than the others?
A gun registry is straight up dangerous to law abiding citizens. Remember when a New York newspaper got their hands on all gun owners in NY and published their names and addresses? Many New Yorkers had to move and many of these law abiding citizens were turned into victims as they were targeted for robbery.
A gun registry is the first step towards confiscation. All throughout history (even modern history), gun registrations from Australia to the UK to Canada has led to the confiscation of guns.
Criminals get their gun off the black market
A Department of Justice report called Source and Use of Firearms Involved in Crimes: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016 provides a lot of insight into where criminals get their guns, and it explains why California’s universal background checks didn’t work and a federal universal background check would not work.
Criminals don’t don’t get guns to go commit a crime, they already had them 80% of the time. 25.3% acquired a gun from a family member or friend, 43.2% purchased a gun off the black market, and only 6.4% acquired the gun from theft. The black market is the largest source of guns acquired by criminals, and only 10.1% of guns are actually purchased from a retail store where they passed a background check.
Prisoners who reported that they had purchased a firearm from a licensed firearm dealer at a retail source were further asked whether they bought the firearm under their own name and whether they knew a background check was conducted. Among those who had possessed a firearm during the offense for which they were imprisoned, 7% of state and 8% of federal prisoners had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer at a retail source, while approximately 1% of state and 2% of federal prisoners had purchased a firearm from a licensed dealer at a retail source but did not purchase it under their own name.
The current background checks are rather ineffective as criminals pass them or ignore them.
What about “Enhanced” background checks?
The argument is often made that background checks need to be “improved” or “enhanced.” There’s a big problem with that – how can you check someone to see if they have broken laws but haven’t been convicted of anything?
When it comes to determining whether someone is a criminal or not, you can’t “enhance” the background check. They are either convicted of a crime preventing them from owning a firearm, or they aren’t. Any background checks that are “enhanced” deprives citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights without them being convicted of a crime. This means these “enhanced” background checks violate due process (5th Amendment) and confiscates property without a conviction of a crime (4th Amendment) and is therefore extremely unconstitutional.
What about “Red Flag” laws?
“Red Flag” laws or “Extreme Protection Orders” are another current trend to “enhance” background checks. The problem is, they are unconstitutional. They involve taking guns away from a law abiding citizen who hasn’t been convicted of a crime. The arguemnt is, “That person might be dangerous, so take his guns away so we can determine if he/she is dangerous or not.” If someone is dangerous, why don’t you convict him/her of a crime and put him/her on trial? If you don’t have enough evidence to convict him/her, let alone charge him/her of a crime, why are their guns being taken without any due process?
This sytem assumes guilt until proven innocent – that is the opposite of what America is founded upon. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty. If our rights are to be denied, we need to be charged, tried, and convicted of a crime.
Red flag laws are completely and totally open for rampant abuse. Two 14-year old students were talking about committing a mass shooting using guns from a relative they didn’t even live with. So police went to that relative’s house and took his guns. He did nothing wrong, he didn’t see a day in court, and he was of no provable danger to anyone – but his guns were taken away.
Imagine losing your rights and being treated like a criminal because of the actions of someone who doesn’t even live with you.
America does not support Universal Background Checks
Anti-gunners love to claim that the majority of America supports background checks. Politifact even claims 80% of NRA members support universal background checks. But it’s false and quite easily proven to be false. First off, there’s only ever been one survey of NRA members, any other survey that claims to know what NRA members want is flawed as it requires people being truthful whether they are a NRA member or not. Second, these surveys are full of vague poll questions to get desired answers. I’ve participated in a poll that had a question saying, “Do you support laws preventing convicted violent felons from owning guns?” The results of that survey made the claim that most Americans support tightening gun laws. The problem is, there’s already a law preventing violent felons from purchasing guns – so maybe Americans simply support the laws we already have? But let’s not get too far off topic.
If these polls have an ounce of truth, then why is it so incredibly difficult for universal background checks to get passed? Every time universal background checks have been on the ballot, they have either failed or passed by simple majority along razor thin margins even in the bluest of states.
- 2017 Nevada Question 1 passed with 50.4% vs. 49.6 percent – with only one county voting in favor of the measure.
- 2016 Maine Question 3 Failed 51.80% to 48.20%
- 2014 Washington State Initiative 594 passed with 59.27% vs. 40.73% and is currently being appealed
- 2000 Oregon Measure 5 passed with 61.8% vs. 38.2%
It seems at most they can get at most 60 percent of the population to favor their measures, even in states passing lots of anti-gun laws. Not quite as popular as they claim after all.
Thanks to reddit user bambamtx for some of the sources
So what do we do about “gun violence?”
We stop looking only at one particular type of violence. In order to reduce the amount of violence done with one arbitrary tool, we need to look at the root cause – violent crime as a whole. You can’t stop violent crime by focusing on one tool used in crime, we must reduce all violent crime.