This past weekend Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) decided to abandon his push for new gun control regulations which would make background checks mandatory at gun shows and private sales. The bill had bipartisan support, but has been unable to pass in the legislature.
After two years of fighting, Senator Toomey has given up on his bill. Though background checks appear to be the logical step to reduce gun crime, they have serious flaws. Over two thirds of all firearm deaths in the U.S are suicides. How could a background check prevent that? Even if medical records of suicidal thought are shown in background checks, can you refuse someone their second amendment right on the grounds of suspicion? The American public seems to agree. In a recent CNN poll, 56% of registered voters lack confidence that new gun legislation would keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. 58% of voters doubt new gun laws would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. Public support for new legislation is falling. In another CNN poll only 51% of people over 50 think it is too easy to get a gun, while only 37% of people under 50 think the same. Americans are beginning to see that gun violence cannot be legislated away.
Besides the lack of public support, background checks are extremely ineffective at keeping firearms from criminals. First, criminals can steal guns. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 10-15% of firearms used in criminal activity are stolen. Second, criminals practice what is called a “Straw Purchase” in which a person who can legally buy a firearm purchases it for someone who legally cannot. Recently Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) suggested that gun dealers be held criminally responsible for firearms they sell. I suggest instead that purchasers be held responsible for their purchased firearm. If people could be charged for crimes committed with their purchased firearms then perhaps straw purchases would be prevented. If private sales between two people had to be done through an FFL (Federal Firearm License holder) dealer, than background checks would be practically universal anyway. If records of sales were kept by FFL’s than ownership of a firearm could be documented effectively and assist in police investigation. Such reform is unlikely however, and its effectiveness is uncertain, but what is certain is that background checks alone will not make much impact. Vester Lee Flangan, the man who shot two people on live T.V passed his background check.
A big fallacy of gun control is that we try to control the guns because we know we cannot control people. We try to legislate away a problem that is deeper and more complicated than anyone would like to admit. Passing bans on specific types of firearms, or specific cosmetic features on firearms is a solution for the intellectually weak. Instead of addressing the root of the problem they give a false sense of security by targeting firearms that account for less than three percent of all firearm deaths. At least Senator Pat Troony made an attempt to pass real legislation, but the American people have lost faith.