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Gun background checks not just a “feel better” idea

Post by Brian O'Neill on April 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm with 17 Comments »
April 12, 2013 7:02 am

The debate on gun control is arguably the most contentious topic currently sucking up real estate inside the media bubble. An important national issue, with both legal and cultural implications, it is primarily an emotional one.

Image courtesy of the
Image courtesy of the

The only federal legislation still on life support is the measure requiring universal background checks for gun sales. Despite being backed by roughly 90% of Americans, the bill barely made it out of the Senate committee’s frying pan, and now waits a slow basting in the fiery Senate chambers.

If nothing else, the measure’s plodding pace has provided ample opportunity for everyone to voice their opinion. Gun owners vs. gun control advocates, lawmakers vs. police chiefs, First Lady Michelle Obama vs. NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre, this is an assortment of groups and individuals as passionate in their discourse as they are polar in their views.

Note that I did leave one brain trust out of the above list. Opinion writers such as Maureen Dowd and Charles Krauthammer, Leonard Pitts and Michael Gerson, Eugene Robinson and Kathleen Parker have all weighed in on the gun debate. As expected, their views follow the normal trajectory of their political leanings.

Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, is one of my favorites. Her commentary is articulate and sensible, her tone sincere and honest. That does not mean, however, that she is infallible.

Whether one writes in The Post’s super heavyweight class or, in my case, the light flyweight class, columnists who wade outside their expertise are as prone to errors as anyone. To wit, Ms. Parker’s most recent column (TNT 4/11), in which she opines that universal background checks “would likely only make us feel better.”

In an attempt to curb my exasperation, I will admit that Ms. Parker’s doubt abouts the efficacy of universal background checks are not unique. There is a general confusion about the various ways disturbed and violent individuals, not to mention felons, arm themselves. While burglaries and thefts account for a large number of guns on the street, far too many are purchased legitimately via private sellers. As I have learned through experience, such transactions occur on a sliding scale.

Consider this one example. A couple of years ago a gang member approached the gang unit to which I was assigned with news of an imminent drive-by shooting. His gang was apparently planning to retaliate for an earlier incident, and the informant had been detailed to find a gun for the job. We set up a sting operation and were fortunate enough to arrest the would-be shooter and the felon who was attempting to sell him what turned out to be a worn out but still functioning semi-auto pistol.

With the assistance of the ATF, we identified the original owner and found it had been sold years earlier to a private party. The subsequent series of transactions, which landed it in the possession of a felon and, very nearly into the hands of a would-be killer, were all completed without concern for the new owner’s mental stability or criminal persuasion.

This stereotypical example highlights one of the basic problems in our current system. When a gun passes, unchecked, through a succession of owners, there are consequences. Because new owners fail to register, much less notice, the serial numbers on their firearms, stolen guns slip through the system, and the criminals who possess them are not charged with a crime. All too often, the end user of a repeatedly sold firearm is the police department which collects it from a crime scene.

Which is why Ms. Parker’s irritation at having her neighbor submit to a silly background check just to buy her shotgun is frustrating. Further, she expresses doubt that, if passed, the new law would be difficult to enforce. That would be plausible if Congress (per the NRA) continues to muzzle the ATF’s enforcement authority.

This is the complex reality behind the gun debate, and it is not going away. So, with all due respect to the heavyweight talents of Ms. Parker, to fully appreciate this issue one needs to step into the ring.

Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. Does the new background checks perpetuate the notion that
    the mentally ill should be easy targets on the street and

  2. simonsjs says:

    Brian, you actually believe he wouldn’t have been able to obtain a gun regardless? The so called 90% is nothing more than propaganda. Nothing we haven’t come to expect from this column.

  3. dkv98446 says:


    You might want to recheck your light flyweight class facts. “The weight limit at light flyweight in professional boxing is 108 pounds (49 kilograms).” Not 46-49 pounds. Easy mistake but reflects on the accuracy of the rest of your statements.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comments.In response:

    Preventing criminals from arming themselves is no different a task than fighting gang violence. Disrupting a gang’s smooth operation – by preventing easy access to weapons, for example – is the model currently in use. It’s a slow process, but one of the few that work in a free society. Also, the 90% figure is pulled from a variety of verified news sources, including NBC News’ prime time broadcast.

    If a background check prevents a mentally ill individual from obtaining a firearm, does that somehow mean that individual is at risk? That will be be a difficult (not to mention illogical) sell to the millions of Americans who do not want a firearm in their homes.

    Last, I did not notice the boxing class weights were in kilos on the wikipedia chart. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. smokey984 says:

    Despite being backed by roughly 90% of Americans?

    Here’s your 90% explained in 2 minutes, enjoy!:

    What are your questions?

  6. Brian, the 90% claim, that you pulled from a variety of news sources clearly shows you are nothing more than a SHILL! Simply use logic and you will see it’s a big fat lie! 90%, that would have to mean it includes children. PROPAGANDA SHILL, SHILL, SHILL!

  7. The usual commentators miss the point that gun safety improvements need to begin somewhere and that includes Ms. Parker to whom I have already responded. Universal background checks will not solve the problem in its entirety, but it will solve the problem it addresses and it is a beginning. The beginning part is what the gun nuts are afraid of. They offer no other rational solutions, but are comfortable watching innocents being killed on a regular basis.
    Don’t you love it when a participant uses caps. It tells you right away to disregard because he probably could not pass a background check in the first place.

  8. If you were a street criminal would you target the street
    group that had the least defenses?

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    simonsjs- This comment site is for coherent and polite discourse. I encourage you to either tone down the lazy, spiteful rhetoric or find another venue.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    alinup- If mentally imbalanced people walked in groups carrying signs identifying themselves, that could be a safety issue for several reasons. It is not, however much you try to make it one.

  11. Publico, that insinuation that gun owners are ok with innocent people getting killed is sickening and ignorant. How can you possibly say such garbage? The veiled insults to regular, law abiding citizens that you appear to be afraid of hate gun violence, but we also hate being blamed for it, and are sick and tired of the blood dancing perpetrated by the left to further political agendas. Our objections are to the constant lies by the media (such as the 90% statistic Brian used) and the endless “but we have to do something!” mantra such as your own post. If gun checks are so important, why isn’t more cases prosecuted? How about we enforce the laws we already have? And can someone tell me just what makes you think a criminal is going to care about going to an FFL to buy a gun from someone? If someone doesn’t care who they are selling to before, what makes anyone think someone will care after a law is passed? This new law, if passed will do nothing to curb violence. Nothing. It is a pointless feel good law that doesn’t address the real problems. I’m tired of shills just parroting the same talking points published by the Brady campaign.

  12. smokey984 says:

    Some don’t get it Gandalf…Nothing you can do about it and let it play out. History will show’em to be on the wrong side of argument.

  13. You can’t identify the mentally ill on the streets?

  14. smokey984 says:

    I am quite concerned that S. 649 (“The Public Safety And Second Amendment Rights Protection Act”) might be approved by the Senate. A filibuster attempt failed. So now the only viable chance of stopping it is to cram it full of “Poison Pill” amendments. Please contact your Senators TODAY, and urge them to load up this bill with as many amendments as possible, to block its passage. My suggested amendments are: 1.) Redefine an “Antique” gun as any gun over 80 years old ((t is currently frozen at an arbitrary 1898 threshold), 2.) Re-open the NFA registry, allowing new transferable machineguns to be produced. (Their number has been artificially frozen since 1986.), 3.) Require States to recognize Concealed Carry permits issued by other States, under the Equal Protection Clause. 4.) Require Federal agents to register with County Sheriffs before conducting an investigation and fully document their probable cause or reasonable suspicion before carrying out an investigation in any County., 5.) Reduce the Federal tax on machineguns, short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and suppressors from $200 to $5, 6.) Change the definition “gun show” in the bill from 75 guns to 500 guns, 7.) Exempt antique guns from S.641’s gun show, Internet advertising, and print advertising restrictions, 8.) Exempt any gun more than 10 years old (those guns which are long out of “Interstate Commerce”) from S.641’s gun show, Internet advertising, and print advertising restrictions, 10.) Allow Open Carry of firearms on all Federal property, and 11.) Allow “Swiss Style” storage of military issue firearms, allowing active duty, Reserve, and National Guard servicemen to store their weapons in locked containers at home.

  15. 90% supports this is bogus info based on a limited and biased study, quit using bad info

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Think I’ll stick with sources like the Gallup Poll, if it’s all the same to you, MauMau. According to that resource (in business since 1935), 91% of Americans favor universal background checks for firearms purchases. The measure also has the endorsement of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

  17. smokey984 says:

    Gotta love these pollsters and the strategic use of words to influence decision making of sheeple…My earlier post related to Brian’s opinion reflects a video explaining such.

    So without further delay, a new Gallup Poll sais:

    Only 4 percent of Americans think guns and gun control are an important problem facing the country, according to Gallup, and far more Americans are concerned about the economy, unemployment and the federal debt.

    In its poll from Apr. 4-7, Gallup surveyed 1,005 adults by telephone and asked, “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?”

    As Gallup reports, “Few Americans mention guns or immigration as the most important problems facing the nation today, despite the current attention lawmakers in Washington are giving to these issues. The economy still dominates as the top concern, followed by jobs and dissatisfaction with the general way in which Congress and the government work.”

    These data “underscore the prominence of economic issues in Americans’ minds,” said Gallup.

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