Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg's new gun "loophole"

While most of the US gun control groups are going down in a death spiral, reduced to shouting insults on Twitter, the only serious public threat to our Second Amendment civil rights is New York City's Mayor Bloomberg and his Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which opposes illegal guns and supports making as many guns illegal as possible. Bloomberg may be many things, but stupid he is not. The man isn't currently getting any more traction than the aforementioned hysterical Twitter busybodies, but if anybody can do it, it's him.

Which is why I'd like to take just a moment of your time to discuss his new push: trying to stir up fear of "online gun sales."

The sound bite version is that Bloomberg hired private investigators to pose as prohibited persons and buy guns online, a task at which they succeeded in 62% of cases.

NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tries to paint this as dangerous, unexplored new ground:

. "When the world learned that Lee Harvey Oswald purchased his weapon through the mail, there was a huge outcry and the Gun Control Act of 1968 regulated the sale of guns through the mail. We shouldn’t have to wait for the assassination of a president or the killing of a police officer to dismantle a conduit bringing illicit guns into the city."

It's obvious we should extend the existing regulations on snail-mail sales to the world of online sales, right?

Ah, but we already do. The 1968 GCA locks all commercial sales into a highly restrictive (and expensive, and choice-limiting) brick-and-mortar only model. Ordering a gun online today is subject to exactly the same restrictions as ordering one from a catalog in 1969. My very first handgun, I "bought online" at a popular site called Gunbroker. Because of GCA '68, I had to pay the dealer for the gun and have it shipped to a gun shop in Jersey so that I could make a brick-and-mortar transaction there, complete with background checks (with fees), state permits (with fees), four-month waiting period, paperwork, state registration, and extra transfer fees charged by the NJ shop.

What GCA '68 doesn't do is pile all that BS on private citizens who are not gun dealers who want to sell or give their own guns to other private citizens who are not gun dealers (both must be residents of the same state). This is not a "loophole"--it's a decision made consciously at the time the law was passed. What Bloomberg is complaining about is not sites that sell guns Amazon-style (which would be dealers, forced to do business as I described above), but that some sites give private sellers a place to tell potential buyers what they're trying to sell. You may as well demand Congressional regulation of Internet forums. For safety.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Bloomberg's press release writer tells us what the Princeps wants:

Federal law should require a background check for every gun sale.

The "gun show loophole" in new clothes. Because those private sellers who "failed the integrity test" by illegally selling to prohibited persons surely wouldn't violate another law requiring them to run a background check.

If we're being honest, background checks are pointless security theater--the TSA of gun control. Everybody knows at least one person with a clean record who can act as a straw buyer. As long as guns are legal, any halfway motivated criminal will be able to get a gun. But background checks are popular policy, and make the general populace more comfortable. Why oppose them? Because our current background check system is badly broken, to the point that universal background checks would create a nationwide gun registry, which is illegal and off the table. Agree or not, American gun owners will not stand for gun registration, full stop.

If Mayor Bloomberg really wanted universal background checks, there are compromises (like a free check system that asks only for the identity of the buyer without demanding the gun's serial number, or a simple "allowed firearms purchaser" endorsement on driver's licences) that could make it happen while addressing gun rights activists' concerns, and even get a lot of them on board with the proposal. But those compromises would reduce the burden on lawful gun ownership, not increase it. That Bloomberg ignores the surer, easier path to universal background checks should tell you a lot about what he's actually after.

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