This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
We’re trying real hard to think of reasons why private sales of firearms shouldn’t involve FBI background checks, and we’re coming up short.
Measures requiring background checks on all gun purchasers ought to be sailing through Congress. The vast majority of Americans – including most gun owners – support universal checks. Only absolutists who see jackbooted gun-grabbers in every shadow are fighting these proposals.
In Olympia, things are moving. Last week, state Rep. Jamie Pederson and 35 co-sponsors introduced a universal screening bill in the state House of Representatives.
It’s very simple. Licensed gun dealers are already required to run the names of would-be buyers through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Nondealers who want to sell their guns would have to do the same for their buyers, using either the system of a dealer or the local police.
The cost could not exceed $20, plus any FBI charges. That’s a reasonable price for buyers who bypass licensed dealers – especially since dealers must incur costs for the background checks they are required to run.
State legislation would be an important step forward, but a national solution lies in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers there have to deal with what can only be described as irrational resistance from the National Rifle Association, whose leaders have supported instant background checks in the past but now apparently see them as a sinister nuisance.
Why? NRA lobbyist Wayne LaPierre struggled in vain to answer that question at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“My problem with background checks,” he told the committee, “is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks.”
Say what? Tens of thousands of criminals are denied guns every year after failing the checks, according to the Justice Department. Not enough are prosecuted, unfortunately, for supplying false information, but the checks do create a useful obstacle.
Universal checks would be an even bigger obstacle; they would deter many unscreened sales on websites and other places where guns are traded under the radar.
No, they wouldn’t keep the most determined criminals from stealing weapons or buying them on the black market. But the more obstacles the better. What law has a 100 percent success rate?
Another of LaPierre’s claims is equally specious: “I just don’t think that law-abiding people want every gun sale in the country to be under the thumb of the federal government.”
That’s not what the polls show. And if there’s truly something creepy about FBI background checks, LaPierre ought to be arguing against them in every case, including sales by licensed dealers. Take the argument to its conclusion.
But there’s really no argument here – just unreasoning emotional reaction. Isn’t blind emotionalism precisely the sin that firearms absolutists attribute to the gun-control crowd?