Democrats Again Chase the Holy Grail of “Universal” Background Checks

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While establishment Washington remains focused on the growing scoreboard of Democratic presidential wannabes, and the media frets about whether actor Jussie Smollett is a victim of a hate crime or of double-reverse racism, the gun control crowd on the Hill is once again striking out in search of the Holy Grail of gun control – closing the “gun show loophole” and mandating “universal background checks.”

Earlier this month, Democrats in control of the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 8, the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” With only a very few exceptions, such as the gifting of firearms between immediate family members, H.R. 8 would mandate all firearm sales and transfers be subject to federal background checks – the “universal background check” long sought by gun control zealots.  Of course, as with all zealots, reality plays little role in their crusade.  

The notion of mass murder and gun violence fueled by shady transactions in gun show parking lots would be hilarious if not for how deeply embedded this delusion is in the psyche of gun control advocates. The so-called “gun show loophole” has given rise to a generation of mostly Democrat lawmakers (joined by a few Republican outliers like Rep. Peter King of New York) who apparently believe that mandating government-run background checks for every gun transfer not now subject to such requirement, will quickly dry up the pool of firearms available to mass murderers.  The ease with which this notion has been debunked repeatedly, however, is lost on these fear merchants.

For starters, there is no such thing as a “gun show loophole.” Although firearm sales between private individuals do not require the use of a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) and the concomitant federal background checks, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms makes it clear that there are strict limits to what can be considered a “private sale,” and what then constitutes an individual “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms, which requires an FFL. Whether such transactions occur in a private dwelling, a gun show parking lot, or online makes no difference to the ATF; and, punishment for trying to circumvent these regulations includes prison and fines up to $250,000. In other words, the scenario of bad-faith gun sales at gun shows suggested to us by Democrats is already illegal.

Secondly, a review of mass shootings over the last two decades reveals the guns used in these incidents were either legally obtained through purchases from an FFL, illegally stolen from another person, or in several instances the result of failures with existing background check systems. Just last week, for example, the murderer in Aurora, Illinois obtained the firearm with which he murdered five people, from a licensed firearms retailer after he passed a background check he was not supposed to have passed, because of a prior conviction for aggravated assault; but the system failed to flag that disabling incident. 

The psychopath behind the 2017 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas was able to obtain his firearm after the United States Air Force failed to report a domestic violence charge to the FBI (the agency that actually runs the background checks). And, clerical issues with the federal background check allowed the person responsible for the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston to obtain his handgun improperly. 

Such errors are tragically commonplace. Yet, rather than conduct hard-nosed oversight hearings about why these repeated failures happen, and then mandate meaningful reforms to the system so it works better, H.R. 8 goes on its merry way to solve a problem that is not really the problem at all. In fact, the legislation may actually make matters worse by adding an even greater burden to a system that is clearly failing.

To top it all off, H.R. 8 would do nothing to prevent or reduce straw purchases, which the ATF says are responsible for nearly half of illegally trafficked firearms. A straw purchase occurs when an individual purchases a firearm not for themselves but for another person, who usually would be unable to pass a required background check if they filled out the mandated paperwork themselves. 

The sponsors of H.R. 8 are so busy patting themselves on the back for supporting the Liberal shibboleth of “closing the gun show loophole,” they apparently fail to realize or, even worse, don’t care that prosecuting straw purchases remains a low priority at the ATF. H.R. 8 is silent on that score. 

However, tackling the hard issues takes time, commitment, and hard work; such as demanding better performance from the federal agencies right now responsible for the federal background check system, and enforcing the laws already on the books designed to keep guns away from individuals who should not have them.   Far easier is it for our men and women in Congress to trumpet a piece of feel-good legislation that accomplishes nothing of substance but sounds oh-so-good in a political sound-bite.