The Corner

Politics & Policy

On the New Background-Check Proposal

(Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Elaina Plott of The Atlantic has a fact sheet (which, she later clarified, the president has not signed off on):

First, a little primer for those who didn’t read all of that. Under the current system, people and businesses who regularly buy and sell guns for a profit need to become licensed dealers and conduct background checks on all buyers. Those who occasionally sell guns from their private collections, however, do not. The Manchin-Toomey proposal from a few years back would have changed that, requiring background checks on all sales made at gun shows or pursuant to public advertisements (say, in the classifieds section or online). Under that proposal, the checks would have been done at licensed dealers, and the dealers would have kept records on the sales the same way they kept records on sales from their own inventories.

Some argued that documenting private sales this way amounted to a registry that the government could use to confiscate guns. This proposal makes two changes to address this concern. First, instead of going to a licensed dealer, sellers could go to a new type of person called a “licensed transfer agent” — someone who isn’t a gun dealer but conducts background checks for private sellers. Second, while a seller could choose to let the dealer or transfer agent keep the records, he could also take responsibility for the forms himself. Violations of the requirement to hold on to the forms would be addressed through civil penalties.

I’m not sure this gets us anywhere. If you thought Manchin-Toomey created a registry, I don’t think it improves the situation to have some fraction of the forms held by individuals rather than dealers. (As the fact sheet itself says, “many” people would probably just leave the forms with the dealer or transfer agent who handled the sale; as far as I can tell they wouldn’t need the buyer’s permission to do this.) And if you thought Manchin-Toomey was already watered down too far, because it didn’t apply to the countless private gun transfers that are not made at gun shows or pursuant to ads, this additional layer of complexity — which creates a situation where, for any given sale, either of two different people could be legally required to keep the records — certainly doesn’t help matters.

As I said last month, “perhaps this is the kind of policy Republicans should accede to when they are powerless to resist, rather than something they should pass when they control both the Senate and the White House.”

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