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‘Expanded Background Checks’ A Fake Solution To Mass Shootings

NRA Background Checks
When an event that shocks the public conscience occurs, such as a mass shooting, the immediate reaction of politicians is “something must be done.” That their first instinct is to do something that is completely irrelevant to solving the problem, or even likely to be counterproductive, is beside the point as long as voters see them doing “something.”

So, as Amy Swearer, a senior legal policy analyst in the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies wrote, those interested in solutions to mass shootings shouldn’t reject a holistic approach to this complex problem, including an examination of the role of mental health.

Processing mass public shootings is never an easy task, wrote Ms. Swearer, but it seems like the added layers of rhetoric after the recent bloodshed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have made it particularly difficult. Is white nationalism driving these shootings? Is mental health a factor or just a distraction from the “real” problem of guns? Is the answer universal background checks, or banning so-called assault weapons, or implementing “red flag” laws?

As Ms. Swearer pointed out in her article, there are an estimated 400 million privately owned firearms in the United States, with somewhere between one-third and one-half of American households owning at least one gun.

More Americans than ever have concealed carry permits and carry on a regular basis. Yet, we are in a decade of historically low rates of violent crime, with homicide rates and gun-related homicide rates falling to half of what they were at their peak in the early 1990s.

More importantly, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2013, almost all major studies on defensive gun uses have concluded that Americans use their firearms in defense of themselves or others between 500,000 and 3 million times every year, far outpacing the number of times firearms are used to harm innocent people.

What’s more, wrote Ms. Swearer, contrary to popular talking points by gun control advocates, the United States does not have a particularly extraordinary problem with mass public shootings compared with other developed countries, after accounting for population differences.

Moreover, in other developed countries, bombings, mass stabbings, and car attacks frequently kill more people than even the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

Ms. Swearer’s analysis touched on many aspects of mass shootings in America, but the one we found most interesting was what she had to say about the role of so-called “universal” or expanded background checks in preventing mass shootings.

As Ms. Swearer observed in her article, federal law already requires that background checks be conducted prior to the vast majority of firearm purchases or transfers. Further, it is a federal crime to sell or transfer firearms to someone you know is prohibited from possessing them, regardless of whether the law mandated that you first perform a background check.

Universal background checks would require private citizens to pay a federally licensed firearms dealer to conduct a background check prior to any transfer of a firearm to another person, with limited exceptions for permanent transfers between family members.

Now here’s the key point: Expanding background checks would not have prevented a single mass public shooter in recent history from obtaining firearms. Would-be mass public shooters rarely have disqualifying criminal or mental health histories—meaning, they often can and do pass background checks when legally purchasing their firearms.

At the same time, these policies would place significant burdens on law-abiding gun owners making low-risk firearm transfers, and may even encourage unsafe firearm-ownership practices by creating unreasonable barriers to those common, low-risk firearm transfers.

Ms. Swearer also pointed out eight reasons why the Democrats’ expanded or universal background check bill (H.R. 8) would fail to have any meaningful effect on mass shootings.

1. It doesn’t address the problem. Studies routinely show that most would-be criminals do not obtain their firearms through legitimate legal sources. When would-be criminals do go through licensed dealers or third-parties who they know are going to utilize a background check, they do so precisely because they do not have a disqualifying history and will pass that background check.

2. It would create a monopoly. Private citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms would be forced by the government to first pay for background check services from a for-profit federal firearms licensee.

The bill would also prohibit the federal government from setting a maximum fee that a licensee can charge for processing a background check, meaning the licensee could charge whatever it pleases for a service the government requires.

3. Familial exceptions would be irrationally limited. The Democrats’ proposal would exempt transfers between certain immediate family members from the background check requirement, but only if the transfer is a “bona fide gift.” This means that the transfer must be permanent and not in exchange for anything of value. The gift exemption as proposed does not apply to gifts between certain types of family members who are similarly situated to those it does exempt, such as in-laws, first cousins, step-parents, or even between non-parental legal guardians and their former charges.

4. It makes no exceptions for common low-risk transfers. H.R. 8 would mandate background checks even for temporary transfers when the original firearm owner is not present for the duration of the time that someone else possesses the firearm. It is not uncommon for a person facing deployment or going on a long vacation to store their firearms with friends or neighbors so that the guns don’t remain unguarded in empty homes.

Under H.R. 8, however, this temporary transfer would require both parties to traipse down to the nearest federal firearm licensee, pay significant fees, and wait for the background check to clear. On top of that, they would have to repeat the process in order to return the firearm to its owner.

5. It would endanger law-abiding citizens. Background checks can take up to three days to be completed, and they rely on the availability of the national background check system, which can sometimes go out of service. Even worse, some states mandate that licensees must wait for significant periods of time—anywhere from three to 10 days—before completing the transfer and handing over the firearm to its new owner.

Even private transfers would become subject to those same waiting periods, leaving almost no options for those who may be in danger.

6. It would treat good-faith mistakes as serious felonies. Because this bill treats common low-risk and temporary transfers as felonies in the absence of a background check, it is extremely likely that otherwise law-abiding individuals would unknowingly fail to conduct a background check and become felons.

H.R. 8 shows no mercy for these good-faith mistakes, and contains no “mens rea” (or “guilty mind”) requirement.

Someone who lets a friend borrow a rifle for a hunting trip without a background check has committed a crime, regardless of whether he intended to break the law or had any reason to believe his actions were criminal.

7. It would place unreasonable burdens on law-abiding young adults. Under federal law, federal firearm licensees may not transfer handguns to any person under the age of 21. Many states, however, allow for law-abiding young adults to exercise their right to keep and bear handguns by accessing them through non-federal firearm licensees.

8. It provides no exemption for concealed carry permits. As a group, concealed carry permit holders are among the most law-abiding citizens in the nation. They are, in fact, statistically much less likely to break the law than are law enforcement officers.

In order to obtain a concealed carry permit, a person has to pass the same background check required under H.R. 8. If the permit holder receives a disqualifying criminal or mental health conviction, he or she must forfeit the permit.

This means that a valid concealed carry permit, on its face, is proof that a person recently passed a background check and has done nothing since that point that would cause him or her to fail it now.

Yet H.R. 8 makes no exemptions to the background check requirement for those who can already prove they may lawfully possess firearms.

As Amy Swearer wrote for the Heritage Foundation, we don’t make anyone safer by imposing significant and unnecessary burdens on the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights, especially when the burdens don’t address the ways in which criminals abuse those rights.

Instead of passing a tortured expanded or universal background check bill, Congress should look at ways to shore up the enforcement of existing laws, which do address the underlying realities of criminal firearm activity.

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Designated Killing Fields

Gun Free Zones were made into law in 1990. Reports show that somewhere between 90% and 96% of the Gun Free Zones are where mass shootings occur, depending on which report you choose.

The insane part of the Gun Free Zones is that they are mandated to be advertised. Establishments implementing them must put up signs to tell everyone that they hols that status.

Gun Free Zones are Designated Killing Fields. Removing them would have more effect on mass shootings than all of the other proposed solutions.