President Obama’s use of an executive order to expand background checks on gun sales is an attempt to do the will of the American people given that Congress has failed to do so.
The fact that the National Rifle Association wouldn’t even come to the table to discuss ways to reduce gun violence suggests that some people in this country would rather not talk about gun control anymore.
Frankly, I’d rather not talk about gun control anymore, either. Any time you write in favor of gun control you have to be prepared for the blow-back. The topic of gun control brings out the worst in some people.
Back in November, when I wrote in support of the Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense petition to send universal background checks out to referendum, the column got 100 thumbs down and 167 comments, some of which were pretty nasty. Rather than respond in kind, I spent that week trying to think dispassionately about gun control.
Here’s what I think.
First, despite what every Republican presidential candidate would like you to believe, nobody’s Second Amendment rights are infringed upon by universal background checks. If you’re entitled to buy a gun, you can buy one. If not, not.
Advocates for gun control sincerely believe that the answer to gun violence in the United States is fewer guns and making them more difficult to acquire and carry. That’s what I believe. Opponents of gun control sincerely believe that the answer to gun violence in the United States is more guns and making them easier to acquire and carry. Right now the scales are tipped in favor of more and easier. But public opinion clearly favors universal background checks, a modest step in the right direction.
Last July, a Pew Research poll found 85 percent support for universal background checks. In September, a Quinnipiac University poll found 93 percent support. In October, a Gallup poll found 86 percent support and a CBS/New York Times poll found 92 percent support. Gun rights activists, of course, have their own 2013 McKeon & Associates poll released by the National Shooting Sports Association that suggested only 40 percent of Americans favored universal background checks.
Universal background checks just seem like common sense to me. If you’re going to have background checks on potential gun purchasers at all, you should have them for all purchases, not just those arranged through licensed dealers. Obama’s executive order would essentially require more people to become licensed if they want to sell guns.
Opponents of background checks insist they don’t work, that criminals and crazies will acquire guns no matter what the law says. Proponents of background checks point out that the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System has prohibited some 2.2 million gun purchases since it was started in 1998. No doubt, many of those would-be gun purchasers found other ways to get a gun, but at least it wasn’t legal.
Opponents of background checks often argue that Washington’s Initiative 594, a universal background check referendum that passed in 2014, has not resulted in any arrests or prosecutions. Perhaps not, but the point of background checks is to prevent gun sales to felons, fugitives, domestic abusers and the mentally ill, not to arrest or prosecute those who are denied.
According to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, in the first year of operation, the universal background check system ran checks on 4,400 private sales that would not previously have been subject to checks and stopped the sale of guns to 84 ineligible individuals.
“For firearms owners,” says Geoff Potter, communications director for the Washington group, “implementation has proceeded smoothly as gun shows, vendors, and owners are all easily adapting to background checks on all sales. Gun stores and shows throughout Washington – including organizations that fought tooth and nail to defeat Initiative 594 – have seamlessly integrated the requirement for background checks on all sales.”
Universal background checks are the law in just over half the states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Maine should be next. Maine Moms Demand Action was preparing at press time to submit the required 61,000-plus signatures to put universal background checks on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Background checks are obviously not the whole answer, but they do keep some guns out of the wrong hands. They have done so in the Evergreen State and they will do so in the Pine Tree State – if we adopt universal background checks in November. I believe we will. Then maybe we won’t have to talk about gun control anymore, at least for a while.
Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.