Last Saturday was the 20-year anniversary of President Bill Clinton's signing of the Brady Act into law, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) used the occasion to urge readers of the San Jose Mercury News to go along with requiring background checks on private transfers of firearms.
A "groundbreaking gun-safety law," she called the Brady Act. "Background checks on gun purchases work," she said. Repeating a false claim that earned President Obama Three Pinocchios from the Washington Post's Fact Checker earlier this year, Feinstein said that background checks should be imposed "on the estimated 40 percent of gun transfers made between private parties."
Gun control supporters have certainly changed their tune in one respect, at least.
When the Brady Act was being debated in Congress, gun control supporters opposed the idea of a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). They instead insisted on a waiting period on handgun purchases from dealers.
The reason was simple. They were alarmed at the rate at which Americans were buying handguns. In the 1970s, the Brady Campaign, then known as the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH), breathlessly declared, "There are now 40 million handguns owned by private individuals in the United States--about one gun for every American family. At the present rate of proliferation, the number could build to 100 million by the year 2000 (which isn't as far off as you think). The consequences can be terrible to imagine--unless something is done." (Emphasis in the original.)
They hoped that a waiting period would slow down handgun sales, and believed that slowing down handgun sales had to occur, if they were to ever stand a chance of convincing the American people to go along with handgun registration.
In 1976, the leader of the NCCH told The New Yorker magazine that "The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition--except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors--totally illegal."
In 1993, Congress temporarily authorized a maximum five-day waiting period on handgun purchases from dealers. But, to gun control supporters' chagrin at the time, mandated the establishment of NICS--an instant background check--within five years. Barring misidentification of a prospective purchaser, a firearm purchase could take no longer than a few minutes to complete!
The Brady Campaign, which fought against NICS with everything it had, adapted to its defeat, however. It now calls NICS checks "Brady checks" and says they should be conducted on even private transfers of firearms.
Again, the reason is simple. Once all transfers of firearms go through NICS, gun control supporters will be in position to demand that all records of approved NICS checks be retained for an extended period of time, not merely 24 hours, as provided for in current law. The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) proposed legislation to extend the records retention period several years ago, in fact. The next steps would be to retain the records permanently, and to require that the records include the make, model and serial number of all firearms transferred in conjunction with the checks.
The anti-gun "media watchdog" group Media Matters, funded by George Soros, scoffs at the idea that requiring "universal checks" would lead to registration. A national gun registry is prohibited under federal law, they say. The reality is, however, if gun control supporters become the majority in Congress, they could change the law at the drop of a hat.
Gun control supporters' ulterior motives aside, there are plenty of other reasons "universal checks" will not have the desired effect in reducing crime. According to Justice Department studies, people in prison for gun crimes have mostly acquired their firearms by theft, on the black market, or from family and friends. Furthermore, criminals who are prohibited by law from possessing firearms, and who therefore cannot pass NICS checks, already defeat the system by having straw purchasers buy guns for them. Finally, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, "universal checks" will not work without requiring gun registration.
As for slowing down handgun sales, Americans have bought about 60 millions handguns since Brady/NCCH sounded its false alarm several decades ago. And indeed, Americans now own the 100 million handguns that NCCH predicted.
For the record, the nation's murder rate is at nearly an all-time low.