Article from Reason by Jacob Sullum.

This week the House of Representatives is expectedto pass two bills aimed at expanding and strengthening the background checks that people undergo when they buy guns from federally licensed dealers. Although bills like these are very popular and seemingly modest, there are sound reasons for supporters of the Second Amendment to be concerned about them.

H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would require that almost all firearm transfers be handled by licensed dealers, thereby triggering the background check requirement. The bill makes exceptions for “a loan or bona fide gift between spouses, between domestic partners, between parents and their children, between siblings, between aunts or uncles and their nieces or nephews, or between grandparents and their grandchildren.” It also would allow temporary transfers when “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” or in the course of target shooting or hunting, provided the owner is there to supervise. Failing to comply with the bill’s restrictions would be punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $100,000.

Notwithstanding the exceptions, the bill would criminalize a wide range of innocent actions, including transfers between friends, neighbors, and cousins. The self-defense exception is narrowly circumscribed, lasting “only as long as immediately necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm,” and so would allow convictions in cases where people lend guns to friends who reasonably fear for their lives—a woman stalked by an ex-boyfriend, for example. More generally, the bill would impose a new expense and inconvenience on millions of Americans who want to do nothing but peacefully dispose of their own property. Finally, it would extend the reach of background checks to people who pose no threat to others but who are unjustly denied the fundamental right to armed self-defense under current federal law for various arbitrary reasons, including marijuana use and nonviolent felony records.

What are the benefits that justify these costs? Although “universal background checks” are usually touted as a response to mass shootings, The New York Times notes, “A vast majority of guns used in 19 recent mass shootings—including those in Newtown, Conn.; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Las Vegas—were bought legally and after the gunman passed a federal background check.” As for ordinary criminals, they are already breaking the law by possessing guns if they’ve been convicted of felonies. They evade background checks by obtaining guns through straw buyers or black market dealers who are unlikely to suddenly start worrying about complying with the law once it requires background checks for private sales.

Read the entire article at Reason.

Image Credit: By KAZ Vorpal (Flickr: Declaration of Independence, with Firearm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons