Last week I discussed some basic do’s and don’ts when calling in to a radio show discussing guns or gun laws, especially when it comes to so-called “assault weapons.” As is always the case in any discussion about guns where a public audience is listening, I cautioned that it is in our best interest to be seen as calm, rational, and “just plain folks” like everyone else. Coming across as angry, belligerent, or confrontational just gives ammunition to those who like to paint us as too irresponsible to be owning or carrying guns.
As I mentioned in the last article, one of the most important things we can do is to stop thinking that we have to respond to every assertion made by the anti-gun zealots. We don’t. Instead, we should challenge even the basis for their arguments. For example, one of the more insidious proposals of late is the demand for “universal” background checks (i.e. any sale or transfer, including between two private individuals).
When listening to gun owners discussing the topic, I noticed that many of them focused on the increased cost to purchasers, or the potential for de facto gun registration. Both of these are legitimate concerns for gun owners. We know that.
But remember that, partly thanks to television, a whole lot of people think all guns are already registered, and they are surprised to find out that only a handful of states actually do require it. Besides, to anyone who doesn’t own a gun, gun registration sounds downright harmless—after all, as reminded by the gun control zealots, we register our cars, don’t we?
Countering “universal” background checks should focus more on challenging their premise that such a scheme is even possible. I heard an excellent example of this from a lawyer who was on a radio show with a gun control supporter. The gun control advocate asked why anyone would object to “universal” background checks. I’ll paraphrase his arguments as they illustrate the kind of arguments that are effective:
First of all, there is no such thing as a genuinely universal background check. The vast majority of guns used by criminals are stolen or bought off the street. Anyone who thinks that drug dealers, convicted felons, and gang members are suddenly going to line up to submit to background checks is either naïve or completely unfamiliar with the criminal world.
More importantly, no background check scheme can stop a “straw purchase”—where someone with a clean record buys a gun for a felon or anyone else who is prohibited from buying a gun. Then, sometime after the sale, and before they transfer/sell the gun to the gang member, they falsely report the gun stolen. This covers them legally, and often allows them to make a claim on their insurance. Thus they could actually end up getting paid twice for the same gun! And the prohibited person who takes possession of the gun doesn’t care—he’s already a criminal.
And it isn’t just convicted felons who use this method; the same holds true for the mentally disturbed. Remember that it was a “straw purchaser” who bought the guns for the Columbine killers. The harsh reality is that no system of background checks will prevent determined individuals from getting guns, and requiring such checks for sales between private individuals will do no better. “Universal background checks” are fantasy.