Boulder, Colorado has never been a hotbed of Second Amendment support, even before a shooting at a King Sooper grocery store earlier this year claimed the lives of ten people. The Berkeley of the Rocky Mountain foothills has long embraced restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, and it’s a lock that the city’s ban on so-called assault weapons, struck down by a state judge earlier this year as a violation of the state’s firearms preemption law, will return if Democrats are successful in repealing that law through the state legislature.
It’s not surprising, in other words, for the local paper to come out with an editorial claiming that it’s time to push Congress to enact a “sensible gun measure” like universal background checks. The problem for the Daily Camera editorial board is that their arguments are completely nonsensical.
Sales through federally licensed gun shops and dealers already require the seller to run the name of the buyer through federal databases of people prohibited from owning a gun for any number of reasons (including having been convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence offenses, being subject to a protective order, or suffering from mental illness). Yet individual sales at gun shows, intra-family transfers, and some online purchases can be made without a background check, a bazooka-sized hole in efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who legally can’t have them.
And even a required background check can be skirted. If the government does not complete the check within three days, the licensed dealer can complete the sale anyway. While the vast majority of checks proceed quickly, some encounter incomplete records or other wrinkles that slow the process. It is foolishness for the law to say, well, okay, here’s your gun anyway. That very loophole enabled Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people in a Charleston, S.C., church, to buy a gun he was barred from owning.
Gun rights advocates frame mandatory background checks as placing an undue burden on someone’s ability to exercise a constitutional right, and universal background checks would interfere with a private sale of a legal item between two individuals.
But that’s not the case. Laws bar certain individuals from owning a firearm, and checking the names of buyers against that list to determine eligibility is a reasonable balance of interests (much like a store clerk checking an ID to make certain a customer can legally buy a six-pack of beer), whether the seller is a gun shop or your neighbor.
And store clerks at gun shops already perform background checks on all of their gun sales, but there’s nobody checking ID when you give your neighbor a beer on a Saturday afternoon. The Daily Camera‘s argument falls apart when they try to expand that to private transfers of firearms.
It’s not just that requiring background checks on all private transfers of firearms places an undue burden on the right to keep and bear arms; it’s that laws mandating those background checks on private transfers are completely unenforceable, at least proactively. Just as there’s no way for the police to know if someone’s getting ready to hand a beer to a minor at a private party, there’s no way for law enforcement to know when someone sells a gun to a friend or relative, or even a total stranger.
The Daily Camera then absurdly tries to claim that gun owners have nothing to fear about a gun registry being established through a database of background check records because “the records of who wants to buy a weapon are kept by gun dealers, and by law the government can’t computerize the handwritten records if they receive them after a gun dealer goes out of business.”
Well, by law private transfers of firearms don’t require a background check, but the Daily Camera editors want to change that. And guess what? There are Democrats who also want to require firearms registration. In fact, an Obama-era white paper from the Department of Justice declared that universal background checks would be largely unenforceable without a national gun registry to ensure compliance.
The worst part of the Daily Camera‘s argument is the fact that Colorado already requires universal background checks, but they haven’t made the state any safer. In fact, violent crime, which started trending down in Colorado in the early 1990s, started increasing in 2013, the same year that the state’s new universal background check law went into effect. Between 2013 and 2018, violent crime increased by 25%, and the crime rate has only gone up since then. In 2019 Denver had the largest violent crime increase of all major cities, and in 2020 the state saw its murder rate jump another 29%.
It’s telling that the Daily Camera editors didn’t mention the state’s universal background checks even once in their op-ed demanding a national version of their own law. The fact is that their “sensible” proposal makes no sense whatsoever, no matter if your primary concern is the constitutionality of the law or its efficacy in reducing violent crime. Universal background check laws don’t reduce violent crime, don’t prevent criminal behavior, but do create a non-violent criminal offense that is punishable (in the bill passed by House Democrats in Congress) by up to a year in federal prison. Given the paper’s previous opposition to over-incarceration, maybe the editors should rethink just how truly sensible their backing of universal background checks really is.