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Damaged Goods

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Damaged Goods

This feature appears in the April ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.

How do you sell something that for generations hasn’t lived up to its claims; that has failed so horribly that one of its side effects is a higher homicide rate; that, when implemented, turns good, law-abiding people into helpless victims; and that has failed so openly that an overwhelming majority of Americans have rejected it? 

Better marketing, of course. The only hope is to repackage the product and loudly deny that you’re selling the same failed ideas in a shiny new box.

This is the position the gun control movement has been in for a long time.

Anti-gun advocates won’t change the product, but they do persistently change the marketing. They can afford to do this because, though gun control has failed again and again in the marketplace of ideas, its peddlers are flush with cash—thanks to a few mega-wealthy individuals.

To accomplish this, gun control groups hire lobbying and marketing firms. They use focus groups to test ideas and sales pitches, and then, when the failed product begins to sound fresh and palatable, they take the idea to the “mainstream” media who broadcast it to the public.

This is what led to the current push for so-called “universal” background checks. This idea didn’t pass Congress in 2013, but it was successfully, and very misleadingly, sold to Washington state voters soon thereafter. This same product is now being marketed to voters in Nevada and Maine—and next, quite likely, to wherever you live.

They like the “universal” background check idea because it can seem unthreatening, even sensible. America’s 100-million-plus legal gun owners, after all, don’t want bad guys or the mentally ill to get guns any more than the editorial board of The New York Times does. So this seems like reasonable common ground.

The problem is gun owners can’t trust the people pushing this expansion of government regulation. They can’t trust them to not abuse the system. They can’t trust them to make the system actually work fairly and in a speedy fashion. And most importantly, they can’t trust them not to come back the very next day and call for more gun laws, including national gun registration. And as you read the legislation you realize the only realistic way to enforce a “universal” background check law is with a gun registry, you begin to see what these regulations are really about.

After all, they know that the only way to enforce their background check mandate is for every transfer to be registered with the government. In fact, Obama’s own Department of Justice published a memo stating the administration believes “universal” background checks “won’t work without requiring national gun registration.”

Not that gun registries work—even Canada couldn’t implement a working gun registry. And throughout history, registration has lead to confiscation in nearly every single case.

Anti-gun advocates won’t change the product, but they do persistently change the marketing.And that is the real issue here. All their talk of Australia and Great Britain simply reinforces this point.

The real goal of Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the leadership of the anti-gun movement is to control, limit and prohibit gun ownership by everyone, not just criminals or the mentally ill as they falsely claim. Gun owners can’t afford to buy into their lies about “common-sense” or “reasonable” approaches because there is nothing “reasonable” or “common sense” about their ultimate end game.

Now, any rational person also pauses here to acknowledge that the “universal” background check idea can never really be “universal,” because criminals, by definition, won’t undergo background checks to obtain firearms. Instead, criminals will get guns how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) says they largely do now—by getting someone who can pass a background check to be a straw purchaser for them, by purchasing them on the black market or by stealing them.

Also, it is already illegal for someone to knowingly sell a gun to someone who can’t legally own one. If the Department of Justice (DOJ) wanted to increase the deterrent effect of this law they could very publicly assign a task force to investigate and prosecute anyone who knowingly sells a gun to a criminal—and make sure the media hears about it when charges are filed.

Still, even though President Barack Obama has pushed the “universal” background check idea to regulate the sales made privately by average American gun owners instead of targeting the bad guys with his DOJ, many gun owners might still be willing to undergo background checks for private gun sales if it might make it a little harder for bad guys to get guns.

Unfortunately, it is not so simple. Michael Bloomberg isn’t spending millions of his dollars to fund the background-check expansion in order to prevent a few criminals from buying guns. When you dig into this effort, you find that something much bigger is going on.

A Past Fight Shows What This Is About

A fight over this issue in Congress in 2013 demonstrated that anti-gun groups aren’t really interested in meaningful solutions, just in trying to pass more gun control.

Though most of the media left this out of the narrative, back in 2013 the Obama administration and some Democrats actually impeded a bipartisan effort to reform the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; introduced “The NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013” in order “to clarify circumstances under which a person loses the right to receive or possess firearms based on mental illness.” The NRA backed this legislation.

The NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013 would have required states and federal entities to add to NICS people who were found by a federal court to be “an imminent danger to themselves or others,” “found guilty but mentally ill in a criminal case,” found to be “incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case” and more.Wherever you look, Bloomberg’s fingerprints are all over these attempts to pass “universal” background checks.

Graham said “Exhibit A” of the need to fix the NICS system was the Alice Boland case. Boland had made threats against President George W. Bush. She told investigating Secret Service agents: “I would shoot him and the entire U.S. Congress. … If I had a gun, I would shoot you, too.” Boland got her day in court, and in 2005 a federal district court judge found that she had schizophrenia and determined she was legally insane. Boland pleaded “not guilty by reason of insanity.” A few years later, in February 2013, Boland went to a gun store, passed a background check and bought a semi-automatic pistol. She then took the gun to Ashley Hall, a private school in Charleston, S.C., and attempted to kill two staff members. Fortunately, though she repeatedly pulled the trigger, the gun wouldn’t shoot.

Graham wanted to update the NICS system so people like Boland wouldn’t be able to legally buy guns. Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said, “This bill will create accurate definitions of those who pose serious threats and should be barred from the ability to buy or possess a firearm, while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and veterans.”

Nevertheless, some Democrats quietly smothered the legislation in a Senate committee. Oddly, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was a cosponsor of the bill on March 18, 2013, but withdrew his support on April 8, 2013, even though the bill’s language hadn’t changed. At the time, CNN reported they “contacted the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence for comment on the legislation but did not receive a response.” Other gun control groups did the same.

Instead of working to improve NICS, gun control groups and their supporters in Congress chose to pursue anti-gun proposals that would not have solved any of the underlying problems in the system.

Who Is Behind “Universal” Background Checks?

The old journalist’s mantra “follow the money” points us to what’s behind the big-money strategy to pass “universal” background checks.

The people funding “universal” background check voter initiatives and legislation are the same players who fund every other anti-gun initiative. Battles over this issue have already taken place in Washington state and Oregon. The battle lines have now moved to Maine and Nevada, with Arizona potentially in the crosshairs as well.

To a large extent, the money funding these voter initiatives and referendums is coming from outside of these states. Opensecrets.org reports that anti-gun groups “unleash[ed] $8.6 million in outside spending during the 2014 election cycle, nine times as much as they spent during the 2010 and 2012 cycles combined.” And that “Bloomberg went all in during the 2014 election cycle, donating $17 million to Independence USA PAC, a super PAC that he says supports ‘candidates and causes that will help protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence, improve our schools, and advance our freedoms.’ The group spent $5.6 million at the federal level during the 2014 election cycle to back candidates who were in favor of gun control and attack one who wasn’t … [and] Bloomberg gave a total of $28 million to outside spending groups during the 2014 cycle.”

Every indication shows Bloomberg will spend even more this year.

Bloomberg’s money is now behind the push to pass “universal” background checks in Maine and Nevada on the ballot. Wesley Juhl, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reported in January that the “gun lobby is often portrayed as a Goliath, but in the fight in Nevada over the Background Check Initiative, it might be the underdog.”

Gun-rights groups were massively outspent by mega-wealthy, anti-gun donors in Washington state in 2014. At that time, Everytown for Gun Safety, Bloomberg’s tip-of-the-spear in such fights and its state affiliate, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, convinced a majority of voters to support a “universal” background check initiative, “I-594.”

Everytown has a similar affiliation with Nevadans for Background Checks. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported: “In 2015, Nevadans for Background Checks raised more than $1.15 million, with much of the money coming from Everytown. Everytown handed over $535,000 to Nevadans for Background Checks in addition to spending $349,434 on the group’s staff time, expenses and consultant services.”

Everytown claims that Nevadans for Background Checks is a legally separate group, but one of its registered agents is Tara Paone, who, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is the “treasurer” for Everytown.

If this is about crime and not just gun control, why are they solely focusing on America’s law-abiding citizens?Wherever you look, Bloomberg’s fingerprints are all over these attempts to pass “universal” background checks. Anyone who thinks the “universal” background check idea isn’t a big deal should remember that Bloomberg has also sided with every modern effort to further restrict or ban guns in America.

When CBS News’ Scott Pelley asked Bloomberg what “reasonable” restrictions on gun ownership are, Bloomberg said: “No guns in the hands of minors. No guns in the hands of criminals. No guns in the hands of people with psychiatric problems. No guns in the hands of people with substance abuse problems. No guns in the hands of people that we put on the ‘no-fly’ list. We won’t let you fly, but we’ll sell you a gun. What kind of craziness is this?”

So, according to Bloomberg, minors can’t be taught to shoot or to hunt? And notice he doesn’t care or acknowledge that the “no-fly list” is a government black list that we can’t see, that we can end up on for unknown reasons—even because we have a similar name as someone on the list—and that if placed on this list we have no realistic way to get our name off of it. Such a use of the “no-fly list” would give the government the ability to take away a constitutional right specifically protected in the U.S. Bill of Rights without even giving us due process.

Obviously, Bloomberg is funding something here that is designed to do a lot more than stop a few bad guys from getting guns. But what?

What Are They Doing Now?

There are currently Bloomberg-funded efforts to pass “universal” background checks in Maine and Nevada and they are looking at states like Arizona and others. These would cover more than just private “sales” and extend to almost any “transfer” (gift, loan or other temporary transfer of possession) of a firearm. Read them and ask yourself what complying with them would be like. Then ask yourself how any state or the federal government can really enforce these sales and temporary gun “transfer” rules without a gun registry. Next, look at the record-keeping requirements in these proposed regulations. (If you look at the regulations passed in Washington state, and then read Maine’s four-page referendum and Nevada’s eight-page voter initiative, you’ll see how similar the wording is in all of them—more evidence of outside influence.) As you do, you’ll notice that Nevada’s voter initiative, for example, requires that a gun dealer do the same record keeping and recording as he would for any gun sale or transfer. These records would then be available to state and federal officials—this is essentially the groundwork needed to begin a gun registry. 

These proposed laws have carved out exceptions for gun transfers between spouses and relatives. Maine’s referendum for a “universal” background check also makes an exception for “intimate partners,” which they define as “individuals in a dating relationship who are currently living with each other.” So, to see if gun sales and transfers are legal without a background check, the law will need to look into peoples’ bedrooms to determine if they are “intimate” with each other.

Even worse is how vague these regulations are. The Nevada voter initiative, for example, makes exceptions for those at “established” shooting ranges (whatever that legally means), when in the presence of the gun’s owner, while hunting and more, but what about traveling to and from the range or a hunting property? Can a person borrow a gun to prepare for a hunt and then keep the gun with them overnight in a hunting cabin without the owner? What if they’re going to hunt their back 40 the next day, can they keep the borrowed gun in their house?

Do we really want police officers and potentially judges invading our lives this invasively? This is especially problematic if we consider whether these vague laws will stop criminals from getting and using firearms in the first place.

In sum, why isn’t all this legislative effort targeting the bad guys and mentally ill? If this is about crime and not just gun control, why are they solely focusing on America’s law-abiding citizens? 

When you consider who is funding these efforts, and then consider that there is no evidence these laws will impede criminals, but that they actually will only criminalize what has always been law-abiding behavior, then you clearly see why gun-rights advocates strongly oppose the “universal” background check scheme.

BY Frank Miniter

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.