This week, the House will vote on H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Ca). This legislation would require universal background checks for all firearm sales (even private) with specific exceptions. Unfortunately, universal background checks would do little to prevent firearm violence and would instead make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to purchase, own, carry, and use a firearm.
Studies show that universal background checks are largely ineffective when it comes to preventing mass shootings. In 19 of the most recent high-profile cases, the shooters bought their firearms legally and passed all the required background checks. In fact, it is unlikely that even a single recent mass public shooter would have been prevented from obtaining a firearm if universal background checks were implemented. Mass shootings do not happen because of a lack of background checks.
In addition, most people imprisoned for firearm-related crimes access their firearms illegally through theft, the underground market, family members, or friends. A 2016 study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh showed that lawful gun owners carried out less than a fifth of all firearm-related crimes.
H.R. 8 is poorly written and makes criminals out of many law-abiding Americans who commonly make low-risk firearm transfers. The bill creates a de facto monopoly by forcing private parties to use Federal Firearms Licensees to conduct background checks on prospective gun buyers, which isn’t necessary in the first place because Congress could simply revise the existing background check framework to allow non Federal Firearms Licensees access to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In other words, even if people say universal background checks are effective, H.R. 8 is the worst and most burdensome way of imposing them and actually inhibits and discourages compliance.
Furthermore, H.R. 8 unreasonably burdens law-abiding young adults. According to legal policy analyst Amy Swearer of the Heritage Foundation:
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. H.R. 8 would force these private parties to go through licensees, who legally cannot transfer the handgun to 18 to 20-year-olds, regardless of whether the transfer would otherwise have been legal between the private parties under state and federal law. By mandating that all handgun transfers now take place through federal firearm licensees except for those between family members, the federal government would force law-abiding young adults to rely on exempted transfers from family members to access the most commonly-owned type of firearm.
To that end, instead of implementing ineffective gun control laws like universal background checks, Congress should strengthen already existing laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of high-risk individuals without infringing upon due process protections. In regards to this, Legal Experts Amy Swearer and John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation said,
Contrary to popular narratives espoused in the aftermath of tragic events involving both firearms and mentally ill persons, many federal and state laws already exist that restrict access to firearms by mentally ill individuals. The relevant question is often not whether there are mechanisms in place to prevent people suffering from a serious mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms, but rather whether those mechanisms are being adequately utilized by the relevant authorities. Moreover, because mental illness is so transient in the lives of so many individuals—and because the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not and will never become violent (especially when treated)—laws restricting fundamental constitutional rights must contain adequate due-process protections and refrain from using broad, over-inclusive prohibitions.
In sum, universal background checks would not make our communities or children safer and would instead infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. Attaching extraneous regulations to the exercise of that right is counterproductive to both public safety and the private defense of life, liberty, and property. Instead of passing this “feel good” legislation, Congress should look for ways to strengthen enforcement of the existing laws which already address firearm violence.
The Daily Signal: 8 Serious Flaws in the New Background Check Bill
The Heritage Foundation: Here Are 8 Stubborn Facts on Gun Violence in America
The Heritage Foundation: Dispelling False Narratives in the Wake of the Santa Fe Tragedy
The Heritage Foundation: We Don’t Need a Sweeping Overhaul of Gun Laws
The Heritage Foundation: A Year After Parkland, Gun Control Activists Still Misdiagnose the Problem
The Heritage Foundation: The Role of Mental Illness in Mass Shootings, Suicides
The Washington Post: New Evidence Confirms What Gun Rights Advocates Have Said For A Long Time About Crime
National Review: Stop Pretending that Ending Mass Shootings Is a Matter of ‘Common Sense’ National Review: The Perpetual Scapegoat of the ‘Gun Show Loophole’