Why "Public Support For Universal Background Checks" Falls Apart

Recently, I was talking with someone who is ostensibly pretty pro-Second Amendment. They’re not a fan of most gun control measures, but they did mention one thing they supported and that was background checks for all firearm sales.

To be sure, this is a far more common among people who like guns than many would like to admit.

It’s common enough that, in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, it comes up that support for these laws is growing.

A 2019 Johns Hopkins study showed that “Between 2015 and 2019, public support increased significantly for policies requiring purchaser licensing, safe gun storage, universal background checks, and extreme risk protection orders.” It’s time for Delegate Szeliga to put down her metaphorical guns and start working on measures to protect Marylanders at the start of this session, like overriding the vetoes of the legislation to close the long gun private sales background check loophole and of the funding of evidence-based violence interruption programs.

To be sure, many of these measures do seem to have significant support when you look at the polls. Time and time again, polling suggests that a significant majority of the people seem to want these measures as law.

The problem is that when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road–in other words, when they finally see what all will be entailed with the new law–that support crumbles.


Well, for one thing, the problem is that when people say they support universal background checks, what they’re thinking is quite different than what’s really on the table. In their minds, it just means if you sell a gun to someone, it has to go through an FFL so all the paperwork and the background check is carried out, but otherwise, nothing really changes.

Of course, if that were the case, then people would still sell guns to one another without the NICS background check, but would simply say that they gave the individual the gun.

As a result, lawmakers craft these bills so that any transfer has to go through an FFL. The idea is that it prevents this kind of skirting of the law.

Unfortunately for lawmakers, it’s this part that sets a lot of people off. See, they don’t like the fact that they can’t give a firearm to a loved one or in many cases even loan a firearm to a friend. Then there’s the fact that inheriting guns counts as a transfer, thus making it more difficult for gun owners to pass their collection on to their children.

Then there are other ramifications. One university had to shut down the armory they kept for students because it was unreasonable. They were required to perform a background check every time a student tried to check out their own firearm.

Yet these are what these laws actually do.

While polling suggests there’s broad support for such measures, the truth is that what people are expressing support for as a single sentence, often phrased as, “Do you support background checks for all gun sales” or something similar. It’s not a complete expression of what these laws actually mean and what they actually do.

So yeah, there’s a reason why these laws continue to be blocked by gun rights lawmakers every chance they get.