Congress returns from its August recess today, and that means that the Senate will be taking up the issue of gun control in the immediate future. Well, maybe. Last week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he won’t bring a bill to the floor for a full vote unless he knows that the President will sign it. So what is President Trump pushing at the moment? According to Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO), Trump hasn’t committed to any specific piece of legislation… yet.
“The president needs to step up here and set some guidelines for what he would do,” Blunt said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “I’m afraid what’s going to happen here is what always happens, is we take this silly ‘if we don’t get everything, we won’t do anything.’”
We’ve heard President Trump talk about background checks and red flag laws over the past few weeks, though it’s unclear whether or not the President has been pushing for expanding background check requirements for private sales or pushing for expanded and expedited record submissions to NICS, the national instant background check system. In recent days Trump has backed off his calls for legislation dealing with background checks, even as Republicans like Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have pushed Trump to back legislation expanding checks to private sales.
In an interview with Fox News last weekend, Patrick said the NRA “needs to get behind” Trump on background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales. And in an extensive interview with The Dallas Morning News on Friday, Patrick called it “common sense” to tighten background check laws because in many instances, buyers in stranger-to-stranger sales aren’t required to be vetted through a federal database before they purchase firearms.
“That gap of stranger to stranger we have to close, in my view,” Patrick told the News. “Look, I’m a solid NRA guy … but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger to stranger sale makes no sense to me and … most folks.”
I think Patrick is wrong when he says “most people” support requiring background checks on private sales and transfers. Sure, if you ask folks whether gun sales should go through background checks, you find overwhelming support. But when people actually have a chance to vote on the issue, that support plummets. As it turns out, most people aren’t in favor of turning their neighbor into a felon because she loaned a friend a firearm for a few weeks while her creepy ex was making threats.
Patrick tries to get around that by calling for background checks on “stranger to stranger” sales. How that provision would be enforced, he doesn’t actually say, but gun control advocates wouldn’t likely settle for that addition to the existing background check laws anyway. In their view, every private transfer that doesn’t have to go through a background check is just a future loophole that will need to be closed. Some gun control activists have even acknowledged that “universal background checks” don’t reduce homicides or suicides.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said that comprehensive background checks are a “logical first step,” especially given the high levels of public support for the policy change. But the effects of such a policy, at least at the state level, have been discouraging; when states enact comprehensive background checks alone, Webster explained, “we’ve not seen reductions in homicides and suicides follow.”
The argument that Webster and other researchers are now putting forward is not that background checks don’t work at all. But the way these policies have traditionally been implemented aren’t working as well as supporters would hope. And even if background checks can act as a foundation for other changes, the evidence increasingly suggests that other policies — such as a system that requires a license to buy a gun — may be necessary to really tackle America’s gun violence problem.
If gun control activists see universal background checks as just a “first step”, and not something that’s effective on its own, then why on earth would any supposed 2nd Amendment supporter call to expand background checks in the first place? At that point, you’re just laying the ground for things like firearms registration or licensing of gun owners.
We’ll soon see what, if anything, President Trump pushes the Senate to pass. In the meantime, the House will be considering several additional gun control bills this month, including a sweeping ban on most semi-automatic long guns (as well as some handguns) and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. If you haven’t contacted your senators and representative yet, now would be an excellent time to do so.