When politicians say they’re going to “do something” about violent crime (specifically, crime in which a firearm is used), they often suggest so-called “universal” background checks. This, the politicians and their anti-gun allies claim, will prevent violent criminals from obtaining firearms.
Unfortunately, like the other sound-bite solutions to crime offered by those opposed to gun ownership, so-called “universal” background checks won’t impact actual criminals at all.
I recently spoke with Lane County, Ore., Sheriff Byron Trapp about the state’s new law requiring background checks on all sales or transfers (with very few exceptions in limited circumstances). He told me that he’s not even sure if the law is enforceable as a practical matter. How are officers expected to learn when a firearm is transferred without a background check, for instance?
In Lane County, for example, deputies are only on duty 20 hours a day because of staffing levels. The county sheriff’s office’s first priority, Trapp told me, was investigating crimes against a person—like homicide, assault and robbery. The manpower isn’t there to fully investigate every property crime, much less a “paperwork violation,” which is what the sheriff called a violation of the background check law.
Additionally, of course, criminals won’t be inclined to obey this law any more than they obey laws against rape, armed robbery, carjacking, home invasion or any number of crimes that carry a felony-level punishment. Violating Oregon’s new background check law is a misdemeanor, at least for the first offense. Even if a violent criminal were to be charged with breaking the state’s background check law, the charge is likely to be dropped in a plea bargain. So what’s the point of this, exactly?
Oh, that’s right: We have to “do something” about violent crime. How about instead of another nothingburger of a law, we actually do something that works—like prosecuting violent criminals?