Is Utah proposal a workable compromise on background checks?

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

One of the more hotly debated gun control topics is the idea of universal background checks. For many, they’re the only way to be sure guns don’t end up in criminal hands. These people believe many crooks buy from average citizens who either knowingly or unknowingly sell the guns to bad guys.

For those of us on this side of the fence, we know that’s bull. After all, most criminals get their guns either through theft or by buying from someone who obtained it by theft. Person-to-person transfers happen, but they represent a small portion of the sales going from the white market to the black.

Yet most of us don’t really want to sell guns to bad guys, we just don’t want the law to require a background check for every sale we might make. I mean, if I want to sell a gun to someone I’ve known since high school who I know isn’t prohibited, I should have that option.

It’s selling to strangers that creates a potential issue.

To this end, some have tried to find ways to make sure the person they’re selling to is a good, law-abiding individual. I’ve seen listings for guns that offered discounts for anyone who had a carry permit, for example.

but a Utah lawmaker is proposing something a little different, something that might just serve as a viable compromise on background checks.

 Utah lawmaker wants to change state law so people can have the option to do a background check when they buy or sell a gun with another person.

“If you’re a seller of a firearm…you want to make sure that the person you’re selling it to…you can check to make sure they’re not a restricted person.” said Republican Representative Jeff Stenquist.

He’s sponsoring a newly filed bill stating that those buying or selling a gun “may request a criminal history background check from a Federal Firearms Licensee (also known as an FFL) before the transfer of a firearm” so long they “appear together with the firearm at the Federal Firearms Licensee’s place of business.” And fill out the required federal paperwork.

Currently, it is legal to purchase a handgun, rifle, and/or shotgun through a private sale in Utah. As long as the buyer and seller are 18, and both are a current resident of Utah.  There is no firearm registration in the state. And there is no way to attach your name to the serial number of the firearm.

So what’s the difference? The difference is that it’s optional. People can use this if they wish, but they’re not required to.

That means the guy they’ve known since Mrs. Ellis’s third-grade class doesn’t have to get treated like a complete stranger, but that guy they know that seems a little sketchy can be asked to step up and prove he’s not prohibited.

As things currently stand, a background check isn’t even an option on a private sale. I can’t decide to sell a gun to my neighbor and get a check to make sure it’s all clear. It’s simply not available.

Yet some would tell you that the only possible answer is a universal requirement for a background check, rather than simply empowering people to make their own decisions.

This might–and I stress the word “might” here–serve as a viable compromise on the subject of background checks. It doesn’t take away any of our rights, but it does give people a way to try and make sure they’re not selling to a felon.

In fact, I think it’s such a good proposal that the usual suspects will try to kill it, I’m sure.