The last remaining plank of President Obama’s gun control legislative package is the “universal background check” provision, which would, seemingly, make a background check a requirement for ALL gun purchases. Currently, the law is that a background check must be run only by gun dealers (FFL holders). Any gun that is sold between two private individuals doesn’t have that requirement.
So, what could be wrong with universal background checks? Polls have been done that show upwards of 90 percent approval of such a law, yet there are some major organizations that oppose it. Why?
Really, the only credible argument that I’ve seen that opposes it is that a “universal background check” law would require some kind of gun registration system, either centrally or distributed, to track whether the background checks have been done.
People on the left have pooh-poohed this notion of a universal registration system. I have a friend who, on Facebook, had this to say about a registration system:
“Gun nuts are so stupid. UNIVERSAL background checks are not linked to gun registration… but for [sic] sake of argument lets say it was, why is everyone afraid of gun registration? Oh because after gun registration then the government is going to confiscate my guns. Then after the imaginary gun registration and imaginary gun confiscation…then the government is going to take over everything and….SOCIALISM …..AHHHH!!! This fear of gun registration is so silly to me. It [sic] coming from a place of unrealistic paranoia…everyone keep in mind that GUN REGISTRATION is not actually being proposed.”
So, I have a few questions: first, is a registration system actually a part of the proposed legislation in Congress? And secondly, is it right to be concerned about a universal registration system for guns? Does gun registration lead to gun confiscation?
Is a gun registry system a part of the proposed gun control legislation?
To answer this question, one must understand a little bit about the background check process, and what the government can and cannot do. When a licensed firearms retailer does a background check, they are submitting an individual’s personal information to the FBI to run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS system either approves or denies the person the ability to buy a firearm, giving the licensee a unique identification number to record the background check. The NICS system is then required by law to delete any personal information about the person whose name was run in the background check.
The licensed firearms dealer is then required to keep accurate records of the transaction, including the name, age, and place of residence of each person that buys a gun from them. They are then required by law to immediately respond to ATF trace requests, and their records can be perused at any time by federal authorities.
So, in essence, we have a distributed gun registry today, with the exception of private sellers. Under the bill under consideration in the Senate today (S.649), a private seller who wanted to sell his gun to someone would have to transfer his gun to a federally licensed dealer, who would then run the background check on the buyer, and then transfer the gun to the buyer upon a successful completion of the background check. There are some exceptions in the Senate bill, as written today:
- Gifts between spouses, between parents and their children, between siblings, and between grandparents and their grandchildren.
- Guns that are left in wills.
- Temporary transfers at home (if you loan someone a gun at your own home for shooting).
- Temporary transfers at the range or while hunting.
Bottom line on this question: the federal government is NOT allowed to keep background check information, but it does require its federally-licensed gun dealers to keep all that information, and they can come and get it at any time for their gun tracing program. So, while there is an incomplete database of firearms owners today (because not everyone buys their guns from a gun dealer), after the law is passed, there will be a complete, distributed database of firearms owners that can be accessed at any time by the federal government.
Note: It really has to be this way, too. If you don’t have record-keeping in the background check process, then the background check system has no teeth. If the law were written in such a way that private sellers could run their own background checks, but didn’t have to keep the same records as the gun dealers, then how would the law be enforced? It would be unenforceable. The law would have no teeth. A person could run a background check on his brother, and then give the gun to someone else, and the government would have no recourse. In order to have truly universal background check system that are enforceable, the government must have some kind of universal registry.
Is a gun registry system something to fear? Does a gun registry lead to gun confiscation?
Why do the “right-wingers” and “gun nuts” (or “gun rights advocates,” if you must refer to them that way) cry “Gestapo” when the topic of a gun registry is brought up? My friend Broc says it’s no big deal; thoughts of gun confiscation is “coming from a place of unrealistic paranoia,” he says.
Being that this is a purely hypothetical situation, I guess the only way to confirm whether a gun registry leads to gun confiscation would be to find examples (contemporary or in history) where a registry has led to confiscation.
Here are some examples that I found:
- Canada just recently (February 15, 2012) passed a law to dismantle its nationwide firearms registry, because of an uproar over the government confiscating weapons as bureaucrats added weapons to the banned weapons list. You can watch a video below of a Canadian newscaster who discusses the Canadian firearms registry and its implications for the United States. Time elapsed from registry to confiscation: 19 years.
- Australia has had a national gun registry since the 1930s, and in 1996 passed a gun control law that banned all semi-automatic guns. Though the Australian Constitution does not allow the government to take property from its citizens without just compensation, the government confiscated all semi-automatic weapons under a buyback program which paid each owner an average of $500-some dollars for their weapon. Time elapsed from registry to confiscation: 66 years.
- In California, where every firearms owner is required to register their firearm, the state confiscated SKS rifles in 1997 based upon the registrations, unless an owner could prove that they acquired the rifle before June 1, 1989.
- The United Kingdom, which has had a gun registry since 1921, banned all semi-automatic centerfire rifles, as well as pump-action shotguns in legislation passed in 1987, and then all handguns above .22 caliber in 1996, and then finally all .22 caliber handguns in 1997. All firearms owners were required to surrender their guns in exchange for payment. Time elapsed from registry to confiscation: 76 years.
- New York City passed a gun registry law in 1967, requiring everyone who owned a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun to register it. In 1991, Mayor David Dinkins banned the possession of many of these, and police have gone door to door to collect these weapons. Time elapsed from registry to confiscation: 24 years.
- In New Orleans in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, police were dispatched to confiscate firearms, according to the New York Times, including legally registered firearms.
- In 2011, the new South African regime passed the Firearms Registration Act, which required all firearms to be re-registered. In the process of re-registration, more than half of the applicants were denied, and forced to turn in their guns. Time elapsed from registry to confiscation: >2 years.
These are just (relatively) contemporary examples. There are others that are historical, including the Weapons Control Act of 1938 in Germany which made it illegal for Jews to own firearms. This was used, in conjunction with the 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition, which required gun registration and licensing, to strip Jews of their firearms. We all know how that turned out.
It’s okay, though, because according to President Obama, “I am constrained by a system our founders put in place,” so he won’t be taking away firearms in the United States. And I believe him. There’s very little chance that he will confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens (though they might in California).
But that’s not to say that it won’t happen in the future (oh, no! It’s the slippery slope argument!). It has been done time and time again in history (as shown above). Those on the Left are defensively stating today, “We don’t want to take away your guns! We love hunters and sportsmen. We just want to make sure that criminals don’t get them.” They don’t want to take away guns; neither did those that passed registry laws in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New York City, South Africa, Germany, Russia, Turkey, China, Cambodia, Guatemala, Bermuda, Cuba, New Zealand, Greece, Ireland, Jamaica, etc. And I believe them; they don’t want to take away guns… today.