The Fallacy of Background Checks

It’s happened again and again since I last wrote about gun control–more senseless shootings, murders, suicides, and accidents. And everyone is searching for answers: better doors, fewer doors, arming teachers and projectionists. None of these “solutions” really limit the number of guns flooding into our streets, schools and certainly not into our homes. So many of the proposed solutions are unworkable as while there are many (a vast majority) who want to stop gun violence, there are not the funds nor the will to enforce the laws we have.

We hear people want stronger background checks. Clearly, based on the limited evidence we’re permitted to see and collect, the system isn’t working. In one of the latest school shootings (and many more), guns were purchased legally by parents or friends and obtained (stolen or simply removed from “locked” gun cases) by the minors ineligible to buy the guns.

When a criminal needs a gun, do they go to WalMart or Ted’s Gun Shop on Main for the firearm? No, they take it away from that blonde openly carrying her AR15 at the mall, they break into her house, or car, or her dad’s house and take it. Because so many of us keep guns in our homes (more than any country on earth) out of fear, paranoia, or fun, more guns are easily available to those who would use them to commit violent acts on themselves or others–including members of their own family. I’ve said this all before, so let’s get to the point.

Which of the people who bought or provided the guns involved in this year’s school shootings would have passed a background check? All of them.

2018-05-26_10-38-17Background checks give us a false sense of security. First, unless they’re universal, completed with each sale, each transfer, each exchange of weapons, they’re made far less effective. This means we need to rigorously monitor gun shows, garage sales, gun swaps and every other place where guns change hands. It simply won’t work. Not in our culture. Until there is a real penalty for transferring ownership (or even lending) a firearm to another without a background check, this problem will continue and school kids and theatergoers will continue to die horrible deaths.

Background checks assume that we can somehow recognize a “criminal” or an “insane” person based on the questions on the form. Seriously? Not all criminals are smart or devious enough to avoid background checks, so the system caught 80,000 people in 2012 but less than 50 were prosecuted. In our state, when you have your gun rights revoked, statistics says no one comes to your home to collect them–you’re expected to turn them in yourself. I expect guns to be confiscated are just given to a relative, salted away in a storage locker, or in a pit in the backyard.

Background checks are unable to predict the future. They have no ability to tell if you or someone in your family will snap at some point in time and use your guns to kill another person–or another hundred school children. This is the fundamental fallacy. The vast majority of gun owners see themselves as sane, rational citizens simply exercising their 2nd amendment rights to protect themselves and their families. The person who passed the background check with flying colors and walked out of the store with his AR15, ten 15-round magazines, and a pallet of ammunition, could go straight to the mall and start shooting. On the other hand, they could go home and safely store their arms in a glass case or on the top of the shelf in the hall closet–telling their 16-year-old son not to touch them. I’m reminded of the film 1942 where the GI tells the homeowner not to touch the canon parked in his front yard–detailing each step of the firing procedure. 1942 (John Belushi)

What people fail to understand is that guns do not make us safer. They facilitate violence. They permit teenagers suffering from hormonal angst to act out in violent ways with far more deadly consequences. They give cowards the courage they need to get even, get revenge, or take what they feel they deserve even if it’s just more room on the freeway. Guns also give people a chance to end their own lives and take a dozen school children with them.

In our system most people aren’t “crazy” until they fire the first round at another human. They aren’t “criminals” until they hold up the first bank or 7/11.

Which of the people who bought or provided the guns involved in this year’s school shootings would have passed a background check? All of them.

So if not background checks, then what? We’ve had this discussion before.

  • We’ve proposed that gun owners be required to own liability insurance. That won’t stop the guns–it would let another industry feed off this problem.
  • We’ve proposed laws that pass the liability for any deaths or injuries to those who sell the guns or make them available to others through negligence. That might slow sales, but it won’t get guns off the streets. And then, bankrupting a pair of grieving parents really does not solve the overall problem. It won’t get guns off the streets.
  • We’ve tried prohibiting sales of weapons like the AR15 and AK47 or similar rapid-fire weapons, but that won’t get them off the streets. This ban did dramatically slow sales until the gun dealers saw they were losing too much money and was rescinded.
  • We’ve proposed limiting sales of high-capacity magazines but these measures need to be universal to work in this age of the Internet where you can still buy 100 clips.
  • We’ve managed to ban bump stocks and other accessories in some states and Internet sales are virtually gone, but again, these can be had on the black market and in the homes and storage lockers of some gun “enthusiasts.”
  • We’ve passed laws to restrict gun possession by domestic abusers but most, by far of those guns have not been seized. It’s too expensive they say. Hire more deputies they say. We haven’t and we won’t. We don’t like higher taxes.

Every time there is another school shooting, even when the guns used come from the homes of the perpetrator’s parents or guardians, people go out an buy more guns–as if having a gun in the home or on their hip is going to make them safer. Statistics and experience show it doesn’t.

As long as there is a multi-billion-dollar industry feeding our gun frenzy, making us afraid to be in our own homes with enough firepower to bring down an angry African lion, we cannot hope to convince the American public that guns are not a solution–to anything. As long as there is an administration in Congress which is bought and paid for by the NRA, we cannot expect a solution.



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