Like many of the rallying cries used by opponents of the right to keep and bear arms, the call for “universal background checks” is a deliberate misrepresentation. While at first blush UBC legislation may sound appealing, the proposal is actually a ruse.
Federal law already requires that licensed dealers conduct a National Instant Background Check System (NICS ) check for all firearms sales. Dianne Feinstein et al claim that a law requiring the same check for all private firearms transactions—sales, temporary loans, or even simply handing someone an unloaded gun to admire—would somehow make America safer. This simply isn’t true.
The U.S. murder rate has ticked back downward slightly in the last two years after a brief increase, and is about half what it was at its peak in 1980. Nevertheless, about 17,000 people are murdered in the US each year. There are close to 100,000 rapes, and over 300,000 robberies. A lot of people commit violent crimes in this country.
While everyone would like to “keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people”—and robbers, rapists and murderers are clearly “the wrong people”—one cannot reasonably believe that people willing to commit robbery, rape, or murder would be unwilling to buy or sell a gun without government permission.
How do “the wrong people” typically get their guns? According to one 2015 study based on interviews with inmates in Cook County, Illinois, about 10% or so purchased their crime guns from licensed dealers, and were in fact subjected to NICS background checks. 90% or more of those firearms were acquired through illegal means. Some of those were stolen, but the majority were obtained from people who knew they are engaging in illegal transactions. A 2016 study,from the DOJ produced similar findings.
For example, with or without a NICS check, it is against the law to sell or give a firearm to someone that you know, or should know, is not allowed to own a gun (a “prohibited person”). It is already illegal to knowingly provide a gun to any prohibited person, by any means, even if they’re your cousin, son or best friend. Just loaning them a firearm is a federal crime.
These transactions provide over 90% of guns used in crimes in this country, and won’t be impacted by a UBC law. Because they are already illegal, the people engaging in them will simply “opt out” of any such requirement. “Universal background checks” will never be “universal”.
The leaders of the civilian disarmament movement are already aware that UBC laws are futile. How do we know that? Because several states already have such laws in place, and the effects of those laws on violent crime have been analyzed. Three separate studies, performed by researchers with well-established anti-Second Amendment bona fides, found no evidence that UBC laws were associated with any decrease in the rate of homicides or suicides committed with firearms.
If anti-gunners in Congress and the media already know that “Universal Background Checks” won’t keep guns out of criminals’ hands, then why do they push for it? This is a question that can be answered by applying a little logic.
There are probably over 400 million firearms in private hands in the United States, though no one actually knows how many. Estimates range from 300 million to over 600 million. We don’t know because there is no national registry of firearms and owners. Creating such a registry is forbidden by the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act (FOPA). And without a registry of all firearms and owners, there can be no way to prove whether any specific firearm changed hands without a background check.
Since a UBC law would clearly be useless without a national registry of all firearms, the logical conclusion is that those pressing for a federal UBC law , completely aware of its futility, are doing so as a prelude to demanding the passage of a subsequent law requiring the registration of all firearms, as noted recently by U.S. Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA).
Prohibited persons would no more register their firearms than they would subject themselves to background checks, knowing they would fail. But it’s not only logic that tells us that such a registry would only affect legal gun owners. More absurd still, not only will “the wrong people” simply refuse to participate in any of these schemes, they are not even breaking the law by doing so!
In the 1968 decision Haynes v U.S., the Supreme Court held that prohibited persons could not be convicted for failing to register NFA weapons—machine guns, short barreled rifles and shotguns, suppressors—because requiring them to do so would violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
So only law abiding gun owners can be prosecuted for failing to register firearms! In fact, after Haynes, the 1934 NFA (National Firearms Act) was amended to stipulate exactly that, and in subsequent cases, the same restriction has been applied to state firearms registration laws. Per the U.S. Supreme Court, firearms registration laws only apply to law abiding gun owners. They do not apply to “the wrong people”.
While this legal Catch-22 is likely news to many, including gun owners, it is very unlikely that the leaders of the civilian disarmament movement are unaware of it.
So what is the real reason for the push for UBCs? Why bother to expend political capital to attempt to promote such laws, which cannot work, and which have been proven ineffective by multiple research studies?
UBC legislation is nothing more than a stepping stone to demanding universal gun registration (UGR). And a national firearms registry has only one purpose: to construct a legal framework that can be used to disarm law abiding gun owners. So-called “Red Flag Gun Laws” are one such tool, and unless and until they are struck down by the courts, they will continue to spread. But UBCs, and the subsequent UGR law that will be subsequently demanded, will be a much more powerful weapons against law abiding Americans.
We have already seen what the response of law abiding gun owners is to firearms registration requirements. Laws requiring registration of modern sporting rifles in Connecticut and New York have been almost universally ignored by the citizenry, as have laws requiring registration of bump-stocks in Vermont, New Jersey and Denver. Laws which also, as we know, do not even apply to “the wrong people”.
Laws such as these will convert the overwhelming majority of American gun owners—who, based on nearly all of human history, will correctly interpret these schemes as a civilian disarmament program— into felons with the stroke of a pen. And, per Haynes, those same laws will have zero impact on already prohibited persons.
What the people claiming to want “gun control” actually want is people control. They want to run others’ lives and control their decisions. They want to remake the world according to their own beliefs and prejudices. No straws, no raw milk, but before any of that can happen . . . absolutely NO GUNS. “Universal Background Checks” are just a good first stepping stone.
—Tom Vaughan, MD is a neuroradiologist in private practice in Louisville, KY. He is a shooting enthusiast who believes in individual liberty and personal responsibility.
All DRGO articles by Tom Vaughan, MD