As of this writing, the anticipated vote in the Senate on the Manchin-Toomey expanded background check plan’s passage is in doubt. Even if it does succeed, the measure will never pass the Republican majority in the House. Whatever the outcome, the plan does not go far enough anyway.
The obstacle to any meaningfully effective gun control legislation falls on the shoulders of people like potential presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who does not support universal background checks. His reasoning, “Criminals don’t care about the laws that we pass with regards to guns. They never follow the law — that’s why they are criminals.”
Of course, that’s true. It’s a no brainer. But, if we require stringent comprehensive, universal background checks on all purchases, especially those that are private, making it harder for someone to buy a gun legally, the less likely they will be able to acquire it illegally. The problem with current gun law, as it will be with any more stringent law, is its enforcement, prosecution, and the penalties we place on its infringement. Without these parameters, no law holds any meaningful purpose.
Folks like Rubio make the claim that the Second Amendment guarantees Americans the right to own a gun. That universal background checks are just another barrier to gun ownership.
The pro-gun folks recite ad nauseum the part of the Second Amendment that says, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But they conveniently leave out the important part of that phrase, the part that provides greater understanding: “[because] A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State ….”
They say the Founding Fathers did not intend that guns would have restrictions placed on them.
It’s really this belief that drives the pro-gunners to oppose gun control regulation beyond what is already in place, not whether or not a person who acquires a gun is qualified to own one or not.
The Militia Act of 1792 does not support such arguments. The act, adopted less than 5 months following the ratification of the Second Amendment, required eligible men to purchase a gun and ammunition for service in the citizen militia. But, beyond its unconstitutionality, more importantly, it underscores the Second Amendment’s meaning in “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State ….”
The Founders prohibited slaves, free blacks, and white people who did not swear allegiance to the Revolution from owning a gun. Women of the 18th century were the property of men, with no property rights, and therefore prohibited from owning a gun. For poor people, now as then, acquiring a gun is beyond their means. The only way for them to acquire one is illegally.
Comprehensive, universal background checks will not be a barrier to gun ownership. It will be a barrier to those who do not qualify to own one. It should be clear to those not influenced by the NRA, or any otherwise politically unbiased, and logically reasonable person that there is nothing in a law requiring stringent, comprehensive, and universal background checks that is unconstitutional or that our Founding Fathers would object to.
If Congress cannot pass such a basic gun control measure as background checks, there should be no expectation that any meaningful legislation will pass in the future. If Sandy Hook is not reason enough to act, what will be reason enough?
Adam Winkler, The Secret History of Guns, The Atlantic