The Absurdity of “Universal” Background Checks

By:  Sheldon Richman
04/11/2013
       
The Absurdity of “Universal” Background Checks

Those who favor “universal” background checks on gun buyers make some ridiculous arguments.

Those who favor “universal” background checks on gun buyers make some ridiculous arguments. For example, opponents correctly point out that gun buyers with criminal intent will always find channels that require no background check. Gunrunning is among the oldest professions, and the black market will always be with us. Thus the promise of universal background checks — even if that were a legitimate government activity — is a fraud, because universality can’t possibly be achieved.

Supporters, however, challenge this argument by contending that it proves too much: If requiring background checks is futile as a crime-fighting measure, they ask, why should we have laws against murder, rape, battery, and robbery? Those laws will never stop everyone from committing a crime, so what’s the point?

This argument is flawed. Let’s remember that the background-check requirement is intended, prophylactically, to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm to others. In contrast, the prohibition against murder and other forms of aggression is intended, retrospectively, to legitimize the apprehension and prosecution of people who have committed offenses against person and property. Yes, deterrence is also intended, but the main objective is to permit action after the fact.

Supporters of background checks may respond that a “universal” requirement would permit the government to go after those who have used guns aggressively. But this argument has no force whatever, simply because if someone commits aggression with a gun, the government already has grounds to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrator. What value is there in being able to charge a suspected mass murderer with illegal possession of a gun as well?

The practical argument for mandated background checks depends solely on its potential for keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them to commit crimes. (However, it would not have stopped Adam Lanza in Newtown or other mass murderers.) 

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