Gun Rights

Checks Threaten Gun Rights

Why "better enforcement" of current restrictions is a bad idea


“To make sure those who would commit acts of violence cannot get access to guns,” President Barack Obama said in January, Congress should mandate background checks not just for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers, as current law requires, but for all gun transfers except those between relatives.

This idea seems to be the most popular of Obama’s gun control proposals, backed by 92 percent of respondents in a mid-January CBS News poll. Yet “universal background checks” are unlikely to stop mass shootings, and enforcing them would require the sort of surveillance that has long been anathema to defenders of the Second Amendment, exposing millions of peaceful people to the threat of gun confiscation and criminal prosecution. 

Although an expanded background check requirement is ostensibly a response to the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, it would not have stopped the gunman in that attack, who used his mother’s firearms. Even if he had tried to buy guns, it seems he would have passed a background check because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

That is typically the case in mass shootings, observes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. And if they could not pass a background check, Fox says, â€œmass killers could always find an alternative way of securing the needed weaponry, even if they had to steal from family members or friends.”  

Meanwhile, to make sure that every gun buyer undergoes a background check, the government would need to know where all the guns are. Although Obama did not mention that little detail, The Washington Post reported that the administration was “seriously considering” creating a system that would “track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database.” 

Second Amendment supporters historically have opposed gun registration, fearing it could lead to confiscation, which has happened in places such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, California, and New York City. While wholesale disarmament would be clearly unconstitutional in this country, confiscation of guns that legislators arbitrarily deem unnecessary or excessively dangerous is easier to imagine, especially given Obama’s support for a new, stricter ban on “assault weapons.”

If fear of confiscation seems paranoid to you, consider what would happen if the federal government merely enforced existing law through expanded background checks and improved recordsâ€"another step nearly everyone seems to think is self-evidently sensible. Such a crackdown would reveal the folly of current restrictions, which prohibit gun ownership by several absurdly broad categories of people under the threat of a five-year prison term.

One disqualifier is a felony record, whether or not the offense involved violence or even a victim. It is doubtful that check kiters, pot growers, or unauthorized farm workers (another banned category) are more likely to go on a shooting rampage than the average person.

Federal law also bars “an unlawful user of…any controlled substance” from owning a gun. Think about that for a minute. If you smoke pot or use a relative’s Vicodin or Xanax, you have no right to keep and bear arms. Survey data indicate that nearly 40 million Americans have used “illicit drugs” in the last year, and the true number is probably higher, since people may be reluctant to admit illegal behavior. 

One of Obama’s “common-sense steps” to reduce gun violence is better sharing of data by federal agencies, including lists of employees or job applicants who have failed drug tests. Seeking such information from state agencies and private employers seems equally logical.

This is one of those situations where “better” could be worse. Although better enforcement of existing restrictions on gun ownership sounds unobjectionable, it would unjustly deny millions of people the right to armed self-defense.  

NEXT: ACLU: IRS Spying on E-Mails Without Warrant, Despite 2010 Court Ruling

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. here is what Toomey says is in his bill. I found the idea that it makes it illegal to create a national registry ludicrous. Talk about unenforceable.

    Provides a legal process for a veteran to contest his/her placement in NICS when there is no basis for barring the right to own a firearm.

    The rest of you can go commiserate with the No Fly List people who have no way of contesting their scarlet letter, either.

    1. Seriously? Only veterans would get to contest?

    2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Monday I got a new Alfa Romeo from bringing in $7778. I started this 9 months ago and practically straight away started making more than $83 per hour. I work through this link,

    3. I called Toomey’s office on Wednesday when this story first broke; the staffer ‘assured’ me that Toomey is concerned about ‘protecting’ 2A rights. When I specifically brought up the above point, he said “well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree”.

      Interestingly, the phone numbers for all of Toomey’s offices were *very* busy and all voicemails were full.

    4. The bill is not ALL bad, just most of it. There are some good things for gun owners:

      1) Authorizes use of a state concealed carry permit instead of a background check when purchasing a firearm from a dealer.

      Save time, money, and no waiting period for CCW holders. The state already has your information when you applied for the permit.

      2) Protects sellers from lawsuits if the weapon cleared through the expanded background checks and is subsequently used in a crime. This is the same treatment gun dealers receive now.

      Slaps down those states trying to enact laws to hold the owner of a stolen gun liable since federal law takes precedence.

      Would like to see a national reciprocity statue for CCW holders since the current per state system is fubar.

      1. CCW reciprocity would certainly make state nullification in vogue again among the statist majority. Though the “pot is totally different” and “for thee not me” cognitive dissonance is sure to continue unabated.

        1. Agreed, but state nullification seems to be “in vogue” no matter which side of the debate you reside on:


  2. lol, silly laws are for honest folk.

    1. anonbot has showed his hand!

  3. ” …backed by 92 percent of respondents in a mid-January CBS News poll.”

    A CBS poll huh? I wonder what numbers a Suthenboy poll would produce?

    1. Whichever ones you wanted it to, presumably?

  4. The law doesn’t say felons are disqualified it says anyone convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year is disqualified. This includes many, many misdemeanors.

    1. When I was 17 I broke into a liquor store after hours and stole booze for a party. I’m now a 54 year old professional with college degrees and am still not legally allowed to even own ammunition, much less a firearm. Because it was in Illinois the odds of spending large amounts of money trying to have my record expunged unsuccessfully are very good so I’ve not spent the money, I’ve just carried illegally.

      1. I admitted to smoking pot before going into the military in the 80’s. No arrest. Haven’t enjoyed it since. Is it a fair assumption that someday the database’s may connect and they could come knocking?

        If they get enough people to “testify” to your drug use, could that count? The generality of the laws passed today scare me. I think blanket and general statement protecting rights have been turned on there ear now with blanket statements of illegality.

  5. my neighbor’s half-sister makes $85 every hour on the laptop. She has been without work for seven months but last month her income was $14043 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site and go to home tab for more detail— big76.?OM

  6. One disqualifier is a felony record, whether or not the offense involved violence or even a victim.

    IOW Martha Stewart cannot possess a firearm. Neither can Robert Downey Jr, as he does when he plays Sherlock Holmes.

  7. If you think Rosa`s story is unbelievable,, a month-ago my cousins girlfriend earned $9496 grafting eleven hours a week from home and there buddy’s step-mother`s neighbour did this for 5 months and got a cheque for over $9496 parttime at there pc. apply the instructions available on this page,

  8. Gun laws, like Obamacare, talk about some small subset of people having a problem, but the solution is never dealing with that minority, but always taking away the freedom of everyone.

    I wonder why that is.

    1. How many kids does obuma have to kill before you give up your right of self-defense?

      Why do you insist on clinging to the antiquated, reactionary notion of self-esteem, when we have so many state-sponsored psychologists (and philosophers) who inform us there is no such thing as a conscious ‘self’ in which to hold esteem?

      You are a rathitht and you have Antisocialism Personality Disorder. Contemplate this on the Tree of Progress.

  9. Someone with a medical marijuana prescription in a place with medical marijuana laws or almost anyone over 21 in a place with legalized marijuana (such as Washington state) would not be an unlawful use even under federal law.

    Why? Because the 10th and 21st amendments give authority to legalize or criminalize an intoxicant to the states, not the federal government. The federal Controlled Substances Act and other federal legislation that restricts intoxicants does not apply in states where those intoxicants are legal.

    1. Use of drugs like used to treat the increasing numbers of ADHD and all those other newly ‘discovered’ mental disorders will certainly be used to disarm the population. Cost increases like high taxation, increased cost of registration, cost of training which will eventually be required, cost of storage and possibly even cost of psychiatric evaluation will eventually also be used to disarm the law abiding.

  10. I want to know why the Dems are getting a pass to use the word “compromise” in connection with this bill?

    They know the hand they were dealt is crap. The “total registration” card cannot be played. This isn’t 1994 so the “AWB” card is out. The “10 round limit” card is a solid loser. The “Universal Background Check” card is the only one they hope has a chance.

    They are giving up nothing and pretending to be magnanimous and “compromise”. WTF is this compromise? We give them their universal background check and they don’t make us wear pink shirts on Tuesdays? That transparent rhetoric only works inside the beltway but that is not where the 2014 elections will be decided.

    The reality is that their position is desperate and we need to call them on it.

    1. We are living Idiocracy, that is why they get away with it. The movie isn’t funny anymore, it’s like watching a fucking documentary.

  11. My freedom and liberty is far more important than the lives of those kids in Newton.


    End of discussion.

    1. You know things are getting serious when libertarians stop merely being egocentric dicks and start being callous egocentric dicks.

      1. Not that liberals are ever callous about Pakistani children dying in droves, eh? Take your generalizations and go fuck yourself.

      2. You said in a previous thread that the deaths of thousands of people who disagree with you, but don’t actually physically harm anyone would be a good thing.

        Go fuck yourself.

  12. If you think Travis`s story is incredible,, last munth my friends mom also actually earnt $5146 grafting fifteen hours a week from home and their neighbor’s mom`s neighbour was doing this for four months and earnt more than $5146 part-time on their mac. use the information on this page — Gig60.?OM

  13. like Gary answered I am in shock that a student able to make $6652 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you seen this site and go to home tab for more detail—

  14. If you think George`s story is flabbergasting…, 1 weak-ago my aunt basically got a cheque for $6991 just sitting there a 20 hour week from their apartment and the’re co-worker’s step-aunt`s neighbour done this for seven months and broght in over $6991 parttime at Their laptop. apply the information available on this page,

  15. my friend’s mother makes $87/hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for ten months but last month her check was $20021 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site

  16. just as Lee answered I cant believe that a mother able to earn $4919 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you read this page

  17. Wait Pot smoking disqualifies one from owning a gun? Doesn’t that rule out both Obama and Clinton? Just saying…

  18. Even if he had tried to buy guns, it seems he would have

  19. James Alan Fox. And if they could not pass a background check

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.