Sunday, April 21, 2013

Geek Speaking Primary Background Checks

Geek Speak: Don't Primary Me, Bro!
In what I can only characterize as a sickening turn of events a law that would have expanded background checks to include gun shows and private sales was defeated by Senate Republicans. The problem, as I and many others see it, is thus:
None of the items addressed in the background check proposal are particularly objectionable. There's no creation of a national registry, there is no ban in the language of the background check proposal (the proposal to ban combat arms and high-capacity magazines is a different bill), and there's nothing in the language that remotely suggests weapons be taken away from lawful owners.

Here are the main bullet points from the proposal to strengthen the background check system:

  • Require criminal background checks for all gun sales. This includes sales between private individuals, pawn shops, and guns hows. This provision includes exemptions for sale between family members and for transfers for sporting or hunting. 
  • Executive action directing the ATF to send a letter to licensed dealers encouraging them to assist private sellers with running background checks when selling their guns (seriously...a letter...oh, the fascism of it all!)
  • Prevent states from using HIPAA protections as an excuse for withholding information about people who are barred from owning a firearm due to mental illness. This is something they do now. You know all that talk about improvements to mental health care? Even if advocates for this somehow found a way to pay for it, some states would refuse to release information about people deemed unfit to own a gun by the medical community due to mental illness, to protect their privacy.
  • Provides monetary incentives for states to share information with the background check system. Seriously. This is a bill that essentially says, "here's millions of dollars for the people of your state, please tell us about violent offenders and those diagnosed as mentally ill so we can add them to the background check system."
  • A directive from the president to the attorney general to examine the laws we have in place and make recommendations for legislative and executive actions that might prevent dangerous people from buying guns. That's it. The president tells Eric Holder, "Go look into this and tell me what you think." Nothing else. There are professors requiring students to write college papers that are more demanding than this. 
That's it. Those are all the bullet points. No confiscation. No jack-booted thugs kicking in your door and taking away the "twenty-two" you use in marksmanship competitions at (highly ironic) gunpoint. Money for states, restrictions on the use of HIPAA exceptions, mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales, and a couple of letters. The average person has to deal with more bullshit at the DMV than what this proposal would have put in place to buy a gun.

The main objection appears to be that expanding background checks to be an argument that it places an unnecessary burden on law abiding citizens who wish to own a firearm. How so? In an age when you can run a background check using an iPhone app there's no reason not to. Thirty years ago when it took a week to run a background check because the results came in the mail? Yeah, I can see that being annoying. Today, at worst, someone might have to wait an extra day to get their gun. Oh darn.

There's also the argument this law is the first step on the road to a national registry of gun owners. First of all, no it's not. Second of all, so what? For anybody over the age of eighteen chances are they're already a registered car owner. Any time someone uses a credit card someone is tracking their purchases. If we're generally ok with these where's the harm in registering with another regulatory body who's purpose is to keep track of the number and type of firearms a person owns? If the ballistics profile and serial numbers are registered as well it creates a tidy paper in the event a weapon is stolen and used in a crime.

Another popular argument is, "it won't stop criminals from stealing guns." Yes. It's true. Criminals steal guns. But we still have laws against stealing stuff, don't we? Just that a criminal element will break a law is not reason enough to not have the law in the first place.

The most popular argument is that it won't prevent another Sandy Hook or Aurora. Well, no. It won't. To that I say, nothing will. I don't think it's a good idea to take away the right to own a firearm entirely, and that is what we'd have to do to ensure there's never another mass shooting. That said just because a law won't prevent another tragedy is no reason to do nothing at all. Laws were created to require car manufacturers to install seatbelts. People do still die in car accidents, even people wearing seatbelts driving cars equipped with airbags, but it's a hell of a lot less than before the laws were created.

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