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May 07, 2013

Jeff Flake: I'll Flip on Toomey-Manchin in Exchange for a Concession on Internet Sales

Buckling under the backlash.

Here's a question: I opposed Toomey-Manchin primarily due to the trap-language in it, the blessing of a regime in which you could have your second amendment rights taken away via an evidence- and standard-free claim of mental defect, the backdooring of a national gun registry.

But what if the bill were clean? What if it just expanded background checks to cover most but not all private sales?

I actually thought the bill had a neat way to exclude truly private sales to friends and family members from private sales to strangers: I believe it specified the background check would only be required if the seller had advertised the gun via print or electronic communication (i.e., newspaper, Craigslist). If a gun is being sold from friend to friend, or father to son, or coworker to coworker, obviously such publicization is unnecessary.

That sort of approach would make many private gun sales -- which are actually private -- not subject to background check, whereas sales to strangers -- and if you've advertised broadly via print or electronic medium, you're selling to a stranger -- would be.

I think it's workable, or at least not egregious. The pushback on this notion comes from people who say, basically, "It's nobody's business what I do with my gun." Well, yes, but in a sale, you are specifically making Your Gun into Someone Else's Gun.

Another argument is that this "wouldn't have prevented the shootings in Newtown," which is... absolutely true. Still, it's a fair question, to me at least, why this isn't done anyway. Everyone needs to pass a background check to buy a gun from an licensed dealer, thus ensuring the gun isn't passing into the hands of a felon or maniac; but once that gun is sold once -- once it has one Clean Buyer -- it can be resold to anyone, no questions asked.

Which leads to the third objection: We just refuse any further regulation of guns, on principle, and because of the Slippery Slope. This regulation will lead to the next one. This restriction may or may not impact the core right, but the next restriction might be more deadly. We stop this one to forestall the next one.

I'm never really sure if that's true -- it may be true. But it might not be. After all, once a meaningless bill is passed on this, Obama declares Political Victory and has a Photo Op, which is what he wants. Baby wants his bottle. I'm not sure he'd have the guts for another fight.

But I do keep going back to the second point: I'm really not sure why gun owners, who themselves have passed a background check, and who themselves are law-abiding people with clean backgrounds, and who generally support law and order over the alternative, are resistant to making an Unknown Stranger similarly pass a background check when he wants to buy a gun from another stranger.

I suppose the argument might be something like, "Gun owners are responsible and wouldn't sell to a criminal." Well, look, that's absurd. You can't say all gun owners are responsible. They're not. Some are every bit as flaky and corrupt as anyone.

Beyond that, how can you tell if someone has a criminal background, criminal intent, or history of stalking or some mental disorder simply by viewing them for ten or fifteen minutes in a completely impersonal sale of an object? Who has such a finely-tuned ability to probe the character of a stranger? Especially during such a non-intimate, impersonal, arms-length, brief transaction?

Who the hell's scanning someone's psychological profile in a quick money-for-goods transaction?

No one is. No one could if they tried.

Anyway, just an argument. I don't suppose it will find much appreciation.

But I do have to say that on this issue, I am one of the people who Just Doesn't Get the argument It's My Gun, I Have a Right to Do With It Whatever I Like, Even If I Want to a Likely Felon argument. It's just not a strong argument.

Alternate Possibility: I don't know if there's any liability that can attach to a seller of a gun to a criminal. I assume there must be, given anyone can be sued for anything.

Perhaps it's the Authoritarianism of the law that rankles. Perhaps this could be gotten around by making a background check voluntary: Say, if the seller voluntarily requests a background check, and the buyer passes, his liability for whatever the buyer does with the gun is sharply reduced or he's completely immunized. (I offer the latter as a possibility but you know the anti-gun, pro-lawsuit left would never buy into full immunity.)

Perhaps that's a half-a-loaf compromise that could satisfy.


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posted by Ace at 11:39 AM

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