What’s The Problem With Universal Background Checks?

| March 26, 2013

One cornerstone of the gun control legislation being brought before the Senate in the coming weeks is a proposal to require Universal Background Checks.

The new law would require all firearm buyers to undergo a federal NICS background check, closing what’s often called the “gun show loophole” on private sales.

A majority of both Democrats and Republicans agree that expanding background checks to any gun sale makes sense. The public agrees. Even 74% of NRA members agree.

But negotiations on a bipartisan proposal broke down between Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Coburn over whether or not sellers would need to keep a record of the checks they run. For some advocates, such a move would facilitate a national database of gun owners.

And those people fear that a national registry of gun owners would eventually lead to confiscation. Otherwise known as the “Red Dawn” scenario.

On Record

But here’s the thing: If you’ve ever bought a new handgun, rifle, or shotgun from a Federally Licensed Firearm dealer (FFL), you’re already on record as owning a gun.

Bought multiple guns at the same time? Bingo. You’re in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) multiple gun trace database.

If you’ve applied for a Concealed Carry Permit (CCP), the state and your local police department know that you have a gun. And if you’ve ever applied for a state hunting license, then guess what?

There’s more. Have you ever bought a used weapon from an FFL at a gun show? Reported a gun stolen? Attended a state-approved firearms training class prior to filing for your CCP? “Registered” your firearm? Applied for a dealer license? Obtained a tax stamp to buy a Title 2 NFA firearm?

Ditto. You’re on record as being a gun owner.

And that’s not even going out into tinfoil hat land. Ever bought a holster or ammo using a credit card? Used one to pay for time at a gun range? Do you have an NRA membership? Ever purchased books on how to clean or modify your Glock from Amazon?

Folks, if the guys with the Black Helicopters ever want to know who has guns, the records are already out there.

Which basically means that the confiscation argument is a non-starter.

Still, why add more records? Why make it even easier?

Well, primarily because keeping track of private sales helps to ensure compliance with the Universal Background Check law. And more to the point, because up-to-date, accurate information also helps law enforcement do its job.

And because it’s the safe, responsible thing to do.

Universal Background Checks

How is it safer? Well, if I’m personally selling a gun via a classified ad, online ad, or even as a non-FFL seller at a gun show, how am I supposed to know if the buyer is a responsible law-abiding gun owner… or a criminal?

I’m against the AWB. But I do think that any sale or transfer of a weapon, ammunition, or magazine, commercial or private, should pass through an authorized, regulated gun store or dealer, through your local police department, or through a BATFE representative and the appropriate form 4473 filed.

In fact, California and Rhode Island already have universal checks in place for private sales. You just take it to a dealer, the dealer does the check and files the 4473, and you’re done.

It’s to your advantage to take it to a dealer anyway. Neutral ground, and you’re not inviting a stranger who saw your ad into your home.

And what do you do if you do invite the guy into your home, run an internet-only check as some have proposed… and then find out the guy’s a felon?

Besides, we don’t need a national registry of gun owners. Just the guns.

The Process

Here’s how it would work. You take the gun to a dealer and the buyer fills out a 4473 and undergoes a background check. He passes, he pays, and he gets his gun. The dealer files the paperwork on site and sends a copy to the ATF, just as is done now.

Form 4473 Page 3

Form 4473 Page 3

The dealer also includes the make, model, and SN, and that information is added to the NICS “trace” database. The trace records point the government back to the dealer, should they ever need to call and find out more information about a weapon recovered from a criminal or a crime scene.

But that’s a “national firearm registry,” you might cry… and you’d be right.

Trace Data

But such a registry already exists. Of a sort. In pieces. In some cases, manufacturers currently supply the government with dealer shipping records:

Date : 03/20/2013; Dealer: Joe’s Guns, Alabama; FFL : 12345;

Make : Glock; Model : G19; SN : XY1234G
Make : Glock; Model : G19; SN : XY1235G
Make : Glock; Model : G19; SN : XY1236G
Make : Glock; Model : G19; SN : XY1237G

The government also stores multiple firearm purchase records, 4473 forms obtained from dealers who’ve gone out of business, stolen gun reports, and the results of previous traces. The later set of records are stored in what’s known as the “trace” database, and the feds use them along with manufacturer information to find Joe and contact him regarding a specific weapon.

Adding resale and transfer information would, in effect, simply be updating the existing database with current information.

Using the current system also protects gun owners. The feds have a list of dealers and gun SN’s and that’s about it. The buyer’s name and address information is stored at your local dealer, just as it would have been with a purchase of a new gun.

And once again, I think it’s the smart thing to do. I mean, if you sell a gun to someone else, do you really want to be on the books as the owner of record? Especially if that person was a stranger?

Family And Friends

Finally, some have complained about the law requiring checks for guns being given as gifts to family and friends.

But should families and friends get a pass? After all, do you actually know if your second cousin or a friend or that guy at work has a drug or drinking problem? Has a psychological issue? Is under a restraining order? Was previously convicted of a felony?

No. You don’t.

All said and done, I think we can do just a little bit more to help keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, the disturbed, kids, and others that shouldn’t have them.

And that, in my opinion, is being a responsible law-abiding gun owner…


  1. BATFE Form 4473

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