Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chitty chitty bang bang

A few days ago the Virginia State Crime Commission held hearing about the so-called "gun show loophole." The commission investigated the loophole in the aftermath of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech which led to, among other things, enhanced procedures to identify mentally ill individuals. 
While gun dealers and stores must follow laws requiring background checks of purchasers, sellers at the numerous gun shows that are held throughout the state are deemed "private sellers" and have no such obligation. In this almost totally unregulated environment, purchasers may be mentally ill or have felony convictions and no one is the wiser.
Republicans on the commission made it clear that they will not require individual sellers to do background checks on buyers. With so many individual sellers, it would be cumbersome, impractical and unenforceable. Some suggested that an individual who sells a certain number of guns each year would have the same requirements as a licensed dealer. That too, would be clumsy and enforcement difficult.
The Roanoke Times suggests an approach that has potential to be workable, enforceable, and improve public safety by helping to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. I'll take this idea a step further. The gun show organizer would be like the dealer and individuals at the gun show who wish to make a purchase would have to produce an ID and go through the basic background check. They'd then get a "pass" that, along with an ID, would allow them to purchase guns from sellers at the show. Anyone could come into the gun show but only individuals with the "pass" could make a gun purchase.
Sure there would be ways to dodge the law (there is with any law). Someone could negotiate a deal that would be consummated later on the parking lot out of the back of a pickup. 
I'm sure some would see this as a "huge" inconvenience. But, I think preventing another Virginia Tech or a single murder would be well worth the few extra steps it would take to make that gun purchase. Simply common sense.

3 comments:

Sailorcurt said...

First your characterization of the effects of the current law is misleading.

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the way you phrased it makes it sound like licensed dealers at gun shows are deemed "private sellers" and are not required to run NICS checks.

That is not the case. Licensed dealers are required to perform background checks at gun shows just like they are required to do so at their business location.

Private citizens selling their own personally owned firearms are not required (and, in fact, are not PERMITTED to) run background checks ANYWHERE.

Changing the law to require private citizens to have background checks run would not be "closing a loophole", but rather creating a special case in the law that makes procedures different at a gun show for private citizens than anywhere else.

Laws that are inconsistent are also confusing and the chance of ensnaring otherwise law abiding citizens who are unaware of the special case in the law is high.

The fact is that very few firearms are offered for sale at gun shows by private citizens. Those non-FFLs who do offer firearms for sale, generally have only one or two to sell at a time or sell antique or high dollar collector firearms.

Current information indicates that private sellers at gun shows are an insignificant factor in the transfer of guns from the legal to the illegal market.

These efforts would be much more constructively spent in investigating and prosecuting rogue FFLs and straw purchasers.

The Roanoke Times' proposal would be so easy to bypass as to be completely useless. All the private citizens would have to do is go across the street and complete the sale to be completely legal. Or exchange phone numbers and complete the sale at a later time and different location.

This procedure would also be impossible to enact at the state level. NICS Check requirements are set by federal law, not state. Federal law requires a NICS check to be run on, and a unique number to be assigned to, a transaction, not to an individual.

Federal law also requires the FFL who is conducting the sale (or his/her employees) to personally run the NICS check.

Without changes to the federal law, this proposal could not be enacted.

If we're going to change federal law, a much more effective measure would be to open NICS up to private individuals.

Currently, a conscientious private citizen is not PERMITTED to run a background check on a prospective buyer. Removing that restriction and allowing private citizens to access NICS (with safeguards to prevent abuse, of course), for a small fee, would allow conscientious sellers to ensure that they are not selling firearms to prohibited person while not infringing on freedom. Criminals and the unscrupulous would ignore the law anyway, so requiring the checks to be run would do nothing to stop crime but would put unwary citizens at risk of falling afoul of the law. Making the system available on a voluntary basis would encourage conscientious people to use the safeguard, but would not victimize otherwise law abiding citizens who may be unaware of the law.

Belle Rose said...

sailor curt, thank you your informative post. I didn't intend to mislead about dealers at gun shows - thanks for the clarification. Your suggestion about opening NICS to private citizens concerned about who they may be selling a gun to is constructive. Again thanks.

Perhaps I wasn't clear, but my general thought was to make the gun show organizer the "seller" responsible for the background check. Individual sellers at the show would be reassured as any buyer would have already gone thru that process. I agree that any law can be circumvented by those wanting to do so, as I noted in the original post.

Sailorcurt said...

I suspected that you didn't really mean to be misleading; but there is so much misleading (and, sometimes, patently false) rhetoric thrown about over this that many people don't clearly understand the issue. I feel that it is very important to be perfectly clear what the issue really is before we can have any kind of constructive dialog about it.

Perhaps I wasn't clear, but my general thought was to make the gun show organizer the "seller" responsible for the background check.

I understand the proposal, and I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea per se, I just don't think it would be particularly effective; therefore, I don't believe that it would be worth the effort.

And the fact remains that it could not be enacted at the state level. It would require changes to the Federal law.