Death of the Instant Background Check Amendment

As readers of this blog know, I hang, shall we say, to the right of center. In the past several months, I have tried to give the political discourse a rest, but after today's defeat of the National Instant Background Check Amendment, better known as the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, and hearing President Obama's impassioned comments about its defeat in the Rose Garden, I had to speak up.

I just read the contents of the Amendment to see what the buzz was all about. Basically, in my not-so-legal opinion, this Amendment wasn't too onerous. It made specific points to disallow a national gun registry and to allow kin-folk to buy and swap guns without background checks. It mandated that all sales in and around a gun show, on internet commerce sites and (loosely speaking) advertised in print media, must be subjected to an instant background check. It also went into detail about how criminal convictions and mental conditions would be entered and maintained in a national registry.

In my scan, I did not see how individuals would process these background checks when selling firearms to non-family members. I also did not see any reference to needing an official sales receipt before a weapon could be sold, which has been claimed by right-wing talk show hosts, but it may have been in there.

So, like I said in the beginning, the details of the law did not appear to be too burdensome, especially in light of the fact that it was written by pro-NRA members of the Senate from both the left and the right. On the surface, it is a bill that I might even be able to support.

When President Obama gave his Rose Garden comments, he allowed one of the Sandy Hook parents to lead off by giving a five minute speech about how he had lobbied lawmakers from both sides of the aisles and how, even in his disappointment, he will not give up on getting "common sense" legislation passed that would be worth it if it saved "even one life."

Next up was the President who was visibly disappointed and irritated at the failure of the Amendment to pass. He said that it failed, not on its merits, but on the politics of the intent. He stated that 90% of all Americans support enhanced background checks. This figure has been thrown around a lot today. I question it. You can't get 90% of Americans to agree that the sky is blue, let alone back enhanced background checks for gun purchases. He spoke about how because of a "continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward." He has his own party to thank for this gift to legislation. Democrats perfected the filibuster threat, without actually filibustering, during the reign of Sen. Tom Daschle as minority leader.

Next he spoke about how the NRA "willfully lied" about the fact that the law would establish a "big brother" gun registry, though the bill did the opposite. He said that "this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators." Substitute the word "women" in place of gun owners and you have how the Republicans felt during last year's presidential contest when the subject of abortion, birth control, and "marriage equality" was mentioned.

He also mentioned the fact that people complained that the Sandy Hook families were being trotted out as props, using "emotional blackmail" to gain support. He seemed surprised that anyone would accuse him of using them in a political stunt. Really?

He had gone on a charm offensive, using all of the tricks of the modern trade that had worked so well for him in the past and he lost. And he has the chutzpah to call "politics" on his opponents as he stands in the Rose Garden of the White House with the VP and victim's families behind him, while the four Democratic Senators who voted against his will were making a stand of their own. Maybe it was a principled stand, maybe it was a vote to save their political neck, or both. Whatever. The game in DC is politics and both sides are masters at the game. Like in every game, someone has to lose.

Asterisk Note: Even though I think this bill may have the potential to stop a few people from legally purchasing guns, it would have a negligible material effect on gun violence. The Sandy Hook father, Mark Barden, even admitted that this legislation would not have stopped the shooting that killed his son.

Another fact is that prosecution for fraudulent application for permits under the current law is of such a low priority that only about 77 people were prosecuted in 2009 from over 71,000 instances reported by the FBI. (This fact does not even address the claim from the left that current background checks have stopped over 2,000,000 people from purchasing guns since inception, a truly bogus figure.)

Background checks do not stop illegal gun acquisition from trafficking, theft and straw man purchases. NICS, the current National Instant Criminal Background Check System is grossly underfunded and underreported to. It is basically a joke. This Amendment proposed measures to fix it, but the burden is on the 50 states to fill in the database with actionable data and they have no real incentive to do so.

And finally, the Number One reason that instant background checks won't make a dent in gun crime is that CRIMINALS IGNORE LAWS. If Obama and the DOJ, along with the states made a full court press to capture, convict and incarcerate, in a no BS, expedited manner, all persons that broke gun laws, you would probably see some of the less-hardened criminals thinking twice before committing a crime with a gun.

(You may observe that the authorities will jump on technical violations from non-violent people, like the Army vet who was found with a 14 round magazine inside Washington DC. He was quickly arrested and tried. It is much harder to go after someone who shoots back.)

I don't know. Maybe I am just a cynic. Maybe if a delegation from the National Commission on Mass Violence (called for in the Manchin-Toomey Amendment) drove to urban Chicago and told the warring gang bangers that what they are doing is illegal, it just might help. You think?


Craig Hollins said…
If you get pulled up by the police in your car you are asked for your license and registration. There is no check to see if you've been banned from driving - you either have a license to drive or you don't.
Instead of background checks, how about shooter's licenses? Make it an offence to sell a gun unless you can see the buyer's valid and current gun license? Bypasses the registry issue as you don't have to say what guns you own - just that you are allowed to own one.
Anyone caught with a gun and not a license commits an offence. Anyone who misuses a gun, commits a serious crime or allows their gun to fall into the wrong hands loses their license.
BTW, what's the issue with registering your guns? You have to register your car and even your computer software - why not something that's designed to kill? You wish to retain the right to kill anonymously?
Your statement about criminals not following laws is almost completely irrelevant. There are no bazooka deaths in the US because it's really hard to get a bazooka. Make it harder to get a gun than it currently is and there will be fewer gun deaths. I can find no valid argument or evidence to the contrary.
If a criminal can buy a cheap gun on every street corner, they will ignore the law and buy a cheap gun. Make it harder for them and you'll see gun crime drop, guaranteed.
Robert Goehring said…
Wow. I can't believe Americans think that the 2nd Amendment is optional. It is one of the basic rights of an American to keep and bear arms. No where in the Constitution is a right more clearly stated with "shall not be infringed."
Oh, I believe the bill was written to say that the Department of Justice will not create/use a gun registry. What about DHS or Education Department or State Department? Why did the ATF ask for all of the CCL holders in Missouri? Answer: to find out where the legal guns were; not the illegal ones.
Your car is not a Constitutional right.
Your computer software is not a Constitutional right.
And regardless of what you may believe, the only reason the government wants to register your guns is so they know where they are. And why do they want to know where the guns are? The only reason is to be able to take them away. But we all know that will NEVER happen here, right? It wasn't supposed to happen in Great Britain either (but it did). It wasn't supposed to happen in Canada but it started to! At least Australia's politicians were upfront and admitted they were confiscating weapons from the people.
But I don't care a bit about those other countries because, you see, they don't have a 2nd Amendment that guarantees my right to have weapons.

I, too, read the bill. Parts of it are still confusing to my simple mind.

But in Craig's comment, he said "make it harder to get a gun that it currently is and there will be fewer gun deaths." I really challenge that simplistic, socialist view as being naive and not based on actual data. We might be better off singing Kum Bah Yaa or whatever and having a coke and a soda.
The Asterisk said…
Craig is from Australia and he is familiar with weapons confiscation. Since Oz does not have a second amendment, it was perfectly legal to pass a law restricting the use or possession thereof, which they did.

Americans think that gun registration will allow an oppressive government to go down a list and confiscate arms. I guess this would be possible. It is certainly possible to reverse engineer background checks and registration (at least in the state of Virginia) to find out who owns (or at least bought) what. The Nazi myth/fact (depends on who you believe) about weapon confiscation from the Jews, also plays into the hysteria.

The bottom line, and Bob made the point in the middle of his comment, is that it is a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Just as it is a Constitutional right to make vile and ugly speech. Like speech where there are limits on what can be said about all but the most public of people, arms are also limited, thus the reason that there are very few bazooka deaths. (Another reason is that it is hard to find and carry a 14 round bazooka magazine.)

I know that non-Americans find it hard to accept that our Constitution is actually a bunch of irrevocable LAWS, but it is true, and though the left (and to a lesser extent, the right) keeps trying to marginalize and ignore the laws that they do not like, they are, nevertheless, laws.

This is a discussion that will never be sussed out to the satisfaction to either side. If any real progress on gun/weapons/arms control is to be made, the second amendment must be dealt with first.
Robert Goehring said…
Unfortunately, there are way too many people who get caught up in the hype of "you don't need a gun so I think they should be banned." Well, hell. I think you don't need to voice your opinion so I think free speech should be banned. Good thing we have a Constitution limiting government's power, isn't it? Too bad statist want to declare the Constitution archaic and unenforceable - let's change it.

Suppression of any of the Bill of Rights means only one thing - more power to the government whether it be city, county, state, or federal. More governmental power means less personal freedom. Period.

I just cannot get my mind around the concept that government should be able to control EVERY aspect of my life - from health insurance to what I can eat to where I send my kids to school and so on. I am only glad that I won't have to deal with this much longer.

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