President Donald Trump told members of the press at the White House today that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “totally on board” with universal background check legislation.
“Frankly, we need intelligent background checks, okay? This isn’t a question of NRA, Republican, or Democrat. I will tell you, I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He’s totally on board. He said ‘I’ve been waiting for your call.’ He is totally on board. I spoke to senators… senators that are hard line on the 2nd Amendment and they understand. We don’t want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people, we don’t want guns in the hands of the wrong people. I think Republicans are going to be great and lead the charge along with the Democrats.”
That prompted a response from McConnell’s staff, pushing back on the idea that McConnell was sold on a “universal background check bill”. Instead, they say, the Senate majority leader has only committed to a debate about the bill.
A McConnell spokesman is gently reminding people that the majority leader did not endorse anything yesterday. https://t.co/pScGAyMVoY
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) August 9, 2019
We’ve reported that Mitch McConnell says several gun control bills will be front and center when the Senate goes back in session on September 9th, including the universal background check bill, along with “red flag” legislation and a bill that would ban semi-automatic rifles and shotguns deemed to “assault weapons”. So far, however, McConnell hasn’t committed himself to voting for any of the legislation, though he has said that he wants to see “something” passed with lawmakers return from the August recess.
President Trump himself had tweeted out support for background check legislation on Monday, but didn’t bring it up in his remarks to the American people. Since then, however, the president has mentioned background check legislation several times, and has received pushback from 2A organizations as well as individual gun owners across the country.
While the President spoke about needing “intelligent background checks”, the bill passed by the House earlier this year is anything but intelligent. HR8 as passed by the House would allow for a one-year federal prison sentence for anyone convicted of transferring a firearm without going through a background check process, with a very few exceptions. Take the exception for self-defense, for example. Under HR8, you’re allowed to temporarily transfer a firearm to someone when:
that is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, including harm to self, family, household members, or others, if the possession by the transferee lasts only as long as immediately necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm, including the harm of domestic violence, dating partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and domestic abuse.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike will have a field day with that one. Let’s say you loan a firearm one night to your friend who’s concerned about her stalker ex-boyfriend breaking into her home and harming her. He’s made some vague threats, but he hasn’t shown up at her doorstep yet. Is she in danger of “imminent death or great bodily harm”? When is the presence of that firearm no longer “immediately necessary” to prevent a death or great bodily harm?
There is also no way for the federal government to possibly enforce this law proactively. The government isn’t alerted when there’s a private transfer of a firearm, nor could they be. The best case scenario is that this law would be applied after the fact if a firearm is used in a crime and someone admits to receiving the gun illegally. Otherwise, there’s no real way of knowing when the gun may have been transferred or for what reason.
It’s also important to note that even the Obama administration Justice Department believed that “universal background check” laws were worthless without a federal gun registry that would keep track of who owns what guns in the United States. A National Institutes for Justice white paper on some of the Obama-era proposals noted that when it comes to “universal background checks”:
Effectiveness depends on the ability to reduce straw purchasing, requiring gun registration and an easy gun transfer process.
If a universal background check bill were to become law, it wouldn’t be long at all before anti-gun lawmakers began demanding a federal gun registry in order to increase the effectiveness of the background check law, which introduces another problem: how to get 100,000,000 Americans to comply with a law requiring them to register their guns with the federal government?
A “universal background check” law isn’t an intelligent way to stop bad people from getting guns. It’s just the preamble to a nationwide gun registration scheme.