Rigged Game

posted on February 27, 2015

The poll-tested phrase “universal background checks” was used to cloak the legal language of an 18-page voter initiative in Washington state. The NRA, many police officers and others who’d read the initiative did all they could to call attention to what the initiative actually said and would do.

Law enforcement noted it was mostly unenforceable. Gun owners asked why checking out or shooting someone else’s gun with the gun owner’s permission should first require them to “transfer” the gun through a dealer. Such common sense, however, was drowned out by a multi-million dollar ad campaign funded mostly by a few mega-wealthy individuals. As a result, a majority of Washington state voters passed the initiative.

Now “universal background check” legislation is spreading to other states by anti-gun groups whose members are hoping to dupe other voters into criminalizing much of what American gun owners have always done legally. At press time, anti-gun groups had gotten enough signatures to put a universal background check voter initiative on the ballot in Nevada during the 2016 election. Similar efforts are underway in other states. No doubt this issue will be debated during the 2016 presidential election. They know an uninformed populace can be duped into voting away their freedom.

The voter initiative in Nevada is similar to legislation considered in the state in 2013. Second Amendment advocates, as well as the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association, opposed the legislation, and ultimately Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it. 

Now anti-gun groups are again shrouding deceptive legislation within the phrase “universal background checks.” They know an uninformed populace can be duped into voting away their freedom. Thomas Jefferson warned of this when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” 

Washington state voters saw this Trojan horse approach when they went to the polls in November 2014. They were asked to vote “yes” or “no” to this question:

Initiative Measure No. 594 concerns background checks for firearm sales and transfers. This measure would apply the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

A reasonable, yet ill-informed person might very well check “yes” and get a warm feeling inside, as if he or she helped make it more difficult for criminals to get guns. Instead, they should feel swindled. While Michael Bloomberg claims the “universal background check” applies to all gun sales, criminals aren’t likely to obey this mandate any more than they do the other laws they routinely ignore. They will still steal guns and illegally buy and sell guns amongst each other as they always have. 

Instead, what such laws do is criminalize normal gun owner behavior. Washington state’s I-594 now presumptively prohibits someone from even handing his gun to a friend without the recipient first undergoing a background check. Gun owners can no longer say, “Hey George, check out my new Browning.” If they give it to friend to handle (now legally considered a “transfer”) without observing the law’s bureaucratic mandates, both parties would be committing a misdemeanor. After the first conviction, subsequent offenses are considered felonies (and because a person is guilty of a separate offense for each and every gun transferred without complying with the background check requirements, handing several guns back and forth can count as separate crimes).

So forget lending your gun to a friend so he could take it to a range to shoot skeet. Unless, of course, you first go to a federally licensed dealer (FFL) and background checks are called into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). You’d also need to pay fees and possibly wait. There are some exceptions to this in the 18-page initiative, but the initiative is so complex a person had better keep a copy stuffed in his or her back pocket. (The range exception, for example, requires that the transfer occur on the premises of an “authorized” range and only applies to firearms “kept at all times” at the facility). A couple of mistakes could result in a felony, which would prevent someone from owning a gun for life.  

Obviously, the real reason Bloomberg and other anti-gun billionaires backed and heavily funded so-called “universal background checks” was to make it more difficult to be a gun owner. Over time, Washington state’s initiative, if it stands, is likely to reduce gun ownership—which is a goal of Bloomberg and his groups.How might the law be enforced in a nation with more than 100 million gun owners who have more than 300 million guns

The text of the Nevada voter initiative makes an exception for police officers and members of the military; it allows for temporary transfers for hunting and for the use of guns by non-owners at what the initiative deems to be official gun ranges; it allows someone to temporarily use someone else’s gun to prevent imminent death; it allows guns to be transferred without a background check between immediate family members; and more. 

There are, however, still many problems and unanswered questions. For example, it would allow FFLs to charge a “reasonable fee” for their services, but doesn’t define what “reasonable” means. The Nevada initiative also doesn’t mention (or prohibit) the records of sale from being kept at the local or state level. These could be used to create a database of gun owners. 

Also, how might the law be enforced in a nation with more than 100 million gun owners who have more than 300 million guns? Will people found legally target practicing on public land—a very normal thing to do in rural Nevada, where most land is public—be questioned about who owns which shotgun, rifle or pistol? There are a lot of questions about this initiative and its possible enforcement that could lead to court cases and, quite possibly, to more legislation to clarify or further bolster such laws.

In fact, this is already happening in Washington state. Just weeks after the voter initiative passed, gun control activists declared they want to expand upon “universal background check” legislation with additional gun control. Sandy Brown, president of the board for the Center for Gun Responsibility, said, “The people of Washington state have made crystal clear that they expect our elected officials to take action on policies that will save lives.”

In Washington state, the anti-gun groups now want:

  • Criminal penalties for adults who fail to safely store guns if the firearms are obtained by children who shoot themselves or others;
  • New gun violence protection orders to remove guns from persons showing signs of what they consider to be dangerous mental illnesses;
  • That certain violent misdemeanors, such as domestic violence, be added to the list of crimes preventing someone from buying a gun;
  • Policies to address health risks from lead at firing ranges.

Clearly “universal background check” legislation isn’t really designed to prevent bad guys from getting guns, but rather to control average citizens. After all, what does it do to disarm criminals or to prevent them from getting guns? 

It’s already illegal to knowingly sell a gun to a person who can’t legally own a gun. If they really want to help gun owners keep guns out of the hands of bad guys, they’d work with law-abiding gun owners to find solutions—of course, that would require them to trust the average American with their freedom. They could back this up with more funding for law enforcement to arrest people who illegally have guns or sell guns to prohibited people.

It is difficult to measure criminal behavior, but in 2004 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimated that 25 percent of armed criminals obtained firearms from “off the street” sales, 15 percent from criminal acts and associates, 37 percent from friends or relatives, 7 percent from dealers and 1.4 percent from flea markets and gun shows. If those numbers are accurate, this law might at best affect only a small percentage of possible sales (by definition, “street  sales” category would happen regardless).

Just consider all this from a police officer’s perspective: Will “universal background checks” make it easier to police the streets, or does potentially criminalizing more of the populace make it more difficult? Does such legislation really make it easier for cops to do their jobs, or does it just make it more onerous to be a gun owner?



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