Why 'Universal Background Checks' Aren't The Answer

Why 'Universal Background Checks' Aren't The Answer

The push for Senate passage of HR8, a “universal background check” bill that passed the House earlier this year, is in full effect, beginning with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanding Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bring the Senate into session to vote on the legislation. Gun control advocates have chimed in as well, including Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care practitioner. I want to make it very clear here that I think Dr. Bell does lifesaving work, and I think that is an incredibly noble cause. My disagreement with her regarding universal background checks in no way takes away from that. But I do disagree with her.

Dr. Bell uses the example of one of the individuals who murdered their fellow students at Columbine High as being concerned that the Brady Bill would thwart him from getting ahold of guns. This, she says, is proof that we should be talking about universal background checks. But, the killers did get ahold of guns, despite the Brady law. In fact, someone bought most of the guns for them, which is a straw purchase, which is already against the law. One firearm was sold to the pair by an individual who knew they were too young to legally own it, which is another crime entirely, and one that is already on the books.

This isn’t an argument in favor of universal background checks. In fact, it points out the folly of the law. First off, the individuals responsible for the attacks in Texas and Ohio had no prohibiting factors that would have made them fail a background check, so this law isn’t even applicable in these cases. But even if universal background check laws had been in place, and they were prohibited, there’s no way to proactively police a private sale. The best you could hope for would be to charge someone with violating the law after the fact.

Right now HR8 comes with a potential one-year prison sentence. Maybe that’s a plea bargaining chip in a case where the defendant is facing more serious charges, but I doubt it’s ever going to be a standalone case for most federal prosecutors. And if violent criminals end up copping a plea to transferring a firearm without a background check instead of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being sentenced to five years in prison, is that really a positive?

Universal Background Check laws are really unenforceable, impractical, and would likely exacerbate existing problems in our criminal justice system, without preventing violent crimes or even increasing background checks themselves. They’re not the answer to reducing violent crime, and politicians shouldn’t pretend that they offer anything more than a chance for a lawmaker to say “See, I did something. I made a law.”