One of the least attractive features of the anti-gun movement and its cheerleaders in the press is their ghoulish exploitation of murder to advance their own political ends. Amanda Ripley of Time is using the Virginia Tech dead as a platform upon which to stand and repeat her tired argument for truncating Americans’ Second Amendment rights. It’s an altogether unimpressive performance from the not-especially-talented Miss Ripley, and the worst of it is trotting out the myth that a magical “loophole” exempts firearms sales at gun shows from background checks and other restrictions.
As has been documented extensively enough that even a Time journalist ought to be familiar with the facts, the sale of a firearm is regulated in exactly the same manner whether it takes place at a gun show or in some other venue. Sales at gun shows are not given any special exemption; sales by people who are not gun dealers are. If my brother-in-law decides he admires my duck gun and wants to buy it from me, I am not obliged to do the things a gun dealer does before making a sale–because I am not a gun dealer. If a gun dealer sells a gun–at his store, at his home, or at a gun show–he is obliged to do the background check and whatever other bureaucratic hoop-jumping the law requires. Whether this happens at a gun show or some other place is immaterial. So Ripley is 100 percent wrong, and probably knows it, when she writes:
Meanwhile, even in states that do share mental health data, people can still buy guns without anyone checking the database at all. Under current federal law, unlicensed gun dealers at gun shows, for example, do not need to do a background check before they sell a weapon.
So it doesn’t matter what is in the federal database if you aren’t required to look. It’s as if the federal government decided you only need a license to practice surgery if you do it professionally; if you are more of a surgical hobbyist, well, then, by all means, give it a try.
By this standard, if you give your child an over-the-counter remedy for a cough or fever, you are guilty of practicing medicine without a license–a felony in most jurisdictions. The sort of controls that Ripley seems to envision are not only incompatible with Second Amendment rights, but are incompatible with a generally free society. Private, casual transactions between two private parties should not be a federal matter.
An “unlicensed gun dealer” is by definition a criminal. If you are a gun dealer, the law requires you to have a license. Casual sales of firearms are not regulated in that way precisely because the parties involved in the transaction are not gun dealers.
What Ripley cannot seem to appreciate is that there is no gun-control program that is 1. compatible with a free society and 2. invasive enough to substantially reduce crime. Killers and career criminals rarely do their work with legally acquired weapons. And the most dangerous guns on the market are precisely the ones that all “reasonable” gun-control advocates say they have no interest in: hunting rifles. Much is made in the media of scary-looking “assault weapons,” but few of them are anywhere near as powerful as a typical deer rifle, much less do they approach the power of the guns used to hunt elk, bear, or other large North American game.
Ripley also opines that more should be done with mental-health data. But one wonders if she’d be willing to extend that logic to matters other than gun control. Should people’s mental-health history be a factor in airline security screening? Applying for a visa or a passport? Should the information be available to local law enforcement, which, unlike the feds, are actually in a position to take preventative measures against local crime? What about applying for a mortgage, which is now considered a matter appropriate for federal intervention? Such measures would rightly make anybody who cares about liberty uncomfortable. But when the subject is firearms, the leftmedia’s concern for civil liberties evaporates.
The unpleasant truth, rarely meditated upon by media pundits, is that ours is a relatively violent society. Switzerland is awash in firearms, including military-grade weapons, which are available to civilians. (Swiss militia members keep fully-automatic machine guns.) Their crime rate is enviably low. Canada is well-armed, but also not as inclined to crime as the United States.
The Virginia Tech massacre was a horrible crime, but only utopians take such occasions to dream up “systems so perfect no one has to be good.”