Read more about Dave’s thoughts on gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings here.
Adam Winkler v. Dave Kopel
In the spirit of this repartee, let me begin by defending the most important reform proposal to emerge out of the tragedy at Newtown: universal background checks. Federal law currently only requires background checks for purchases from licensed gun dealers. Yet you don’t need a license to sell guns—and felons unable to lawfully buy guns can go to gun shows where they’ll find plenty of unlicensed sellers offering their wares. I assume you agree with me, David, that convicted felons should not be able to easily buy guns. Why, then, would a conscientious gun owner—as most gun owners I’ve met are—oppose universal background checks, which make it harder for felons to obtain guns? While some felons would certainly find other sources of guns, shouldn’t we do more to make it harder for them? There’s no reason, in my opinion, why anyone should be able to buy a gun without first passing a background check.
To elaborate Adam’s insight, I’d say that the constitutionally legitimate gun control laws are the ones which actually improve public safety by keeping guns out of the wrong hands. The illegitimate gun control laws are the ones that infringe the rights of the law-abiding, especially the right of self-defense.
A good example of laws which successfully integrate gun rights and gun control are the “Shall Issue” laws for handgun carry licensing in most states. Those laws provide a fair and objective process for law-abiding citizens to be issued permits to carry concealed handguns for lawful protection. The laws have controls such as background checks (which are typically much more extensive than for simply purchasing a gun) and safety training. The laws also protect the right to bear arms, by ensuring that licensing officials do not deny applications simply because the issuing official does not like the idea of people carrying guns.
As to Adam’s question about background checks on private sales: if anybody actually proposed this, it would probably pass, with overwhelming political support. The reason it hasn’t been enacted in most places is that the bills which are actually introduced are bait-and-switch.
For example, the Schumer-Bloomberg “background check” bill in the current Congress would make it a federal felony to allow your spouse to borrow your gun for more than seven days. In the guise of “background checks,” Schumer-Bloomberg would felonize almost every American gun owner, for activities that have nothing to do with selling guns.
Likewise, the “background check” bills always include some sort of provision for gun registration. This makes them a non-starter. The experience of other countries, including Canada and the U.K., shows that gun registration lists often end up being used for gun confiscation. The same thing happened in New York City, so of course gun owners have no reason to trust that a gun registration bill pushed by Mayor Bloomberg could never be used for gun confiscation…(next page)