Do gun rights advocates even know why they’re opposed to background checks?

They need to get in touch with their feelings.

In a piece at the Daily Beast, Adam Winkler writes about the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan compromise on universal background checks for gun buyers that the Senate voted to begin debating.

The bill would require background checks for any sale that “occurs at a gun show or event” or “pursuant to an advertisement” on the Internet or in a publication. Yet no other private sales require a check. Transfers among family members are explicitly excluded, as are sales between friends or acquaintances.

In other words:

Manchin-Toomey doesn’t provide anything close to universal background checks.

Worse, writes Winkler, it

… plays right into the NRA’s hands. It’s an example of what gun-control advocate Dennis Henigan calls the “gun-control Catch-22.” The NRA forces lawmakers to gut a proposed law, leaving it with gaping loopholes. Then, when the law predictably fails to meaningfully reduce gun violence, the NRA cites it as evidence gun control doesn’t work.

Exactly why are gun-rights advocates opposed to exposing a wider range of prospective gun buyers to background checks? Presumably, it’s a typical preemptive move on their part to keep the gun-rights bubble inflated. Or, as John Donohue writes at CNN, gun manufacturers

… are the ones who call the shots at the NRA [(as if you didn’t know — RW], and they. … don’t want anything that interferes with total gun sales and profits.

Background checks, writes Donohue, cause

… direct loss of profit … because closing the current gaping loophole in the background check system will shut off sales to criminals and the mentally ill who are effectively free to buy all the guns they want at gun shows and through private transactions.

But, of perhaps even greater impact to gun manufacturers

… there is also an indirect loss of profit: Cutting off sales to the mentally ill and criminals will reduce crime and thereby reduce the public’s demand for guns for self-protection.

As for how the average gun owner feels about background checks, Donohue writes that a

… poll shows that the NRA has managed to convince a lot of Americans that universal background checks might lead to gun confiscation.

Bear in mind that many buy guns because they or their loved ones have met with or been threatened with violence. To them, those who would limit their access to the arms of their choice are either bleeding-heart liberals and totally devoid of credibility or they’re just plain irresponsible.

How can their logic be disputed? Realistically, people can’t be expected to compromise their ability to defend their families until the day comes that society is safe and the judicial system commits itself to, among other things, enforcing restraining orders. The obvious paradox is that without fewer and less lethal arms, a safe society remains out of reach.

But, gun manufacturers who seek to prevent a decrease in sales aside, gun-rights advocates may be motivated to opposed background checks by more than fear of future inroads into their rights, such as confiscation. While the phrase “overactive imagination” can be applied to those who fear confiscation of their guns, neither are gun-safety advocates (such as myself) immune to it.

Consider that not all martial arts students are content to confine their developing skills to the dojo. They either hope for, or actively seek out, fights to test both their skills and their courage. Even more than martial arts skills, guns — ergonomic to a fault these days — beg to be used in settings other than gun ranges and hunting. Also, gun owners wonder how they’d fare in violent television, movie, and video-games scenes.

What does that have to do with background checks? Maybe, some gun owners subconsciously seek the arming of those with criminal records and those who are mentally ill. Thus may they be provided with opportunities to act out their shooting fantasies.

However likely or unlikely that may be, longer waiting periods and criminal background checks on all sales are essential. Along with those restrictions, at Slate, Justin Peters — after pointing out how difficult it is to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons when so many are out there — recommended restricting

… magazine capacity; … raising taxes on gun and ammunition purchases; devising better strategies to combat gun trafficking; developing guns and gun safes that can only be operated by their owners—these are substantive and sustainable reforms.

Though essential, these measure are stop-gap. Rather than take out their grievances on the rich and powerful responsible for them, too many take out their anger on their fellow citizens. The long-term solution is to decrease inequity: parents with fewer grievances then raise healthier children, who, in turn, further decrease inequity. This “virtuous circle” decreases the number of threats against which people feel the need to defend themselves against with arms.

25 replies »

  1. Just read a stat that the amount of violence has been halved in last decade or so, but percentage of people owning guns for protection has doubled. (Of cause, NRA will argue causality.) It’s an amazing marketing job the NRA has done, convincing consumers that the world is more dangerous when it is in fact less. I guess it worked for the defense industry, so they figured it’d work here.

  2. Section 922(g) or (n) of Title 18 of the United States Code. National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) The 40% of people bypassing a background check at gun show loophole is a lie.

    This 40 percent figure comes from a 1997 report by the National Institute of Justice, a research agency within the Department of Justice, and was based on a telephone survey sample of just 251 people who acquired firearms in 1993 and 1994. This was years before the NICS system went into effect.

    Section 922(g) or (n) of Title 18 of the United States Code. even covers Obamas and the UNs smal arms treaty.

    If you think that defesless people are safer, prove it, with facts and statistic.

  3. Here’s a couple of previous administration sorts (from the Reagan/Bush years) with some reasons to at least be concerned about sloppy legislation with unintended consequences. I’m rather biased in my views (though still open to being convinced otherwise), so maybe that keeps me from seeing the flaws in their reasoning.


  4. So,… Why do so many people want criminals and crazy people to have guns? And….
    Why do they want more people to have assault weapons? I think that is why they are called “gun nuts”

    • No body wants criminals and crazy people to have guns!!! Criminals and crazy people will always have access to guns even if all guns where banned. Dis-arming and registering lawabiding citizens dos not stop criminals and crazy people. Cars and drivers are heavily tracked and regulated, but it doesn’t stop people from driving them without a license, it doesn’t stop drunk drivers it doesn’t stop them from being stolen. If gun had never been invented criminals and killers would still be there. Look at Boston, they don’t need guns. We need to address criminals and killers not what they use. Making people defenceless and easier targets is just stupid.

  5. @Tom. I’m sure your disparaging comments work very well for you, but they contribute nothing to debate. You might start by checking your definition of “assault weapons.” If by that you mean “scary black guns,” by all means, keep using the term. If you mean “weapons effective in an assault,” pretty much anything will do, so why stop at trying to limit firearms. If you mean “weapons effective in a military assault,” then you might need to consider why semi-automatic rifles aren’t issued to the military instead of weapons with automatic fire.

  6. A more germane question Mr. Wellen might be, “Do gun rights opponents understand that pro-gunners can be in favor of comprehensive background checks while still opposing poorly written legislation?” Carl Sagan wrote that true believers will never be swayed by logic and evidence, only by their deep seated need to believe. Et tu?

    • Frank, you do understand that the legislation is always “poorly written” because of the out of proportion influence of NRA money on the legislators they have either bought or bullied, right? “Poorly written legislation” serves the NRA cause because when it fails they can always point and say “see, more laws don’t work.” It’s clever and it’s sinister and a man who knows how to use the word “germane” and riff on Julius Ceasar, as you do, is certainly bright enough to understand this.

      • Hello Samuel, are you aware that the NRA rates 228th nationally in political contributions and 174th in lobbying dollars spent? Opensecrets.org has that info should one care to peruse it. Or that gun manufacturers are a mere 4% of the NRA’s income? There is no out of proportion influence, I and 5 million other Americans are dues paying members supported by another 60 million or so American gun owners. We are the influence sir, we are the NRA, not the fictional cabal of Satan worshipers that the liberal press makes the NRA out to be. Mr Wellen’s blog above suggests that merely owning a kitchen knife must make one antsy to start stabbing schoolchildren, or having a BIC lighter in one’s pocket certainly must bring fantasies of committing arson at the nunnery…really? Enforce existing laws, quit playing hug a thug and catch and release with firearms felons and our already low national violent crime rate will drop even lower.

        • As soon as someone utters the phrase “liberal press” they have made clear their preference for ideology over facts.

          Yes, there 5M or so NRA members. And yet, on Capitol Hill their agenda is treated like it’s the most important thing to every voting American. I’d be fine if Congress treated the NRA proportionally – that is, less than 2% of the population and hence less than 2% of the influence.

          And no, the NRA does NOT represent all gun owners. I’m a gun owner and I know a lot of others. I think out of the pack precisely one is an NRA member. The prevailing opinion is that the NRA is actually one of the great dangers responsible gun owners face because they are, slowly but surely, marginalizing ALL of us.

        • Don’t have the link any more. But if you look at some of the polls you’ll also find they did other polls like 80% are in fear of registration/confiscation, 78% oppose BGC, only 4% give a rats ass about gun control but then the same people doing the poll say 90% in favor. 90% is high in any poll but when every one doesn’t care, BS. Numbers just don’t add up. not only in math but only 4% care but 90% in favor? and currently the majority of the people believe that there is no current BGC systom and never heard of NICS, don’t remember the numbers. 42% of the people don’t know that Obama-care is law.

          Higher equipment taxes, non compliance tax most if not all of the added cast are not from or for corporations. This is all the administrations doing. You can blame bush, republicans even congress for letting it through, but the blame falls on the architect and his cronies.

        • Slightly off-topic, but since we’re talking polls and blaming this administration willy-nilly in a mostly incoherent manner, let’s not forget to blame Obama for nard-stomping out-of-control deficits!


          There, I even found it on a mostly right-wing site, never mind that I could just as easily have posted the Investor’s Business Daily link instead 🙂

          Oh, damn. Seems only 6% know its shrinking. What else might 94% be wrong about?

          Moral of the story? We should be careful of polls and what we think we know.

      • Not a NRA member. I do know they represent 4.5 million members! The government spout off that 90% of Americans support BG checks, its actually only 47%. They say most Americans are in favor of gun control, no its only 4% they talk about the gun-shows 40% loopholes. That stat comes from a 1992 poll of just over 200 people. a decade before the current NICS. Currently its only 1%. Poorly written legislation is not the fault of the NRA, it starts out that way, just look at Obama-care. The recently failed BGC was the basically the same as NICS it just mad it illegal for registration, but at the same time mandating that the FBI keep records of each gun purchased. The NRA may use strong arm tactic, the government uses unethical even criminal tactics.

        • abaworlock, I have no idea where you’re getting your facts, but it isn’t from any of the major polling services. Several of them, including the highly regarded Quinnipiac poll, show that 90% number or something very close to it.

          If “Obamacare” is poorly written – and I’m willing to grant that it has huge flaws – it’s a result of Congress (and in this case the president) pandering to the industry interests that are responsible for so much important campaign spending. I simply do not understand people who are passionately, vehemently, rabidly loyal to corporate and trade interests that are in no way working on their behalf.

          But I live in America, so I’m used to it.

  7. Samuel, if truly 90% of Americans believed strongly in the Toomey-Manchin compromise it would have passed. Congress fears voters not the NRA. The Quinnipiac poll took respondents from 3 urban Eastern states and asked very short, very broad questions. In the same poll a majority were in favor of armed police in every school. Does that factoid jibe with your belief system?

    Gallup presents a more realistic picture where 65% of Americans are in favor of expanded background checks, as am I, with the caveat that the law be written concisely. The same poll also found that only 4% really give a rat’s patootie about increased gun control as they felt many other issues are more pressing http://www.gallup.com/poll/162083/americans-wanted-gun-background-checks-pass-senate.aspx

    In speaking to Mr Wellen’s blog, I took exception with the recurring theme that possession of a tool must make the owner fantasize about misusing it. This is untrue as evidenced by the vast majority of tools which are never misused by their owners. However, If you agree with the author and own a gun then you must wake up sweaty in the dark of the night fighting the subconscious urge to go play Rambo with it?

    • First, the actual arguments being made.

      The Q polls was done in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. I can see how you might not like NY, Conn and NJ, but a) the rest are hardly bastions of librulism and b) your response reads like you’re quoting NRA talking points.

      The Washington Post also polled and found the same rough number, and the Gallup poll you cite found this:

      The same group of people was also asked: “Would you vote for or against a law that would require background checks for all gun purchases?” A whopping 83% said they would vote “yes,” which included people who opposed the Senate voting for background checks.

      As noted before, the whole “poorly written law” meme is a canard – NRA influence is designed to assure poorly written laws that inevitably fail, thereby becoming evidence for future arguments that laws don’t work.

      Finally, there’s this: Congress fears voters not the NRA. This is nifty sloganeering, but it reveals either an inability or an unwillingness to understand the nuances of how corporate, trade group and special interest money (which fuels campaign media) drive (I should probably say “dominate” here) the electoral process these days.

      Now, I’d have everyone read Frank and abaworlock’s comments closely. Notice anything? Wow. Rat’s ass vs. rat’s patootie? I don’t know if I’m seeing a) two normal people copying and pasting off the same NRA talking points doc, b) one normal person masquerading as two, c) some sort of organized NRA sock puppetry, or d) a coincidence that buggers belief.

      In any case, S&R readers are more than justified in whatever questions they might be having right now about “abaworlock” and “Frank Dilatush.” I’d advise ALL parties, whoever they may be, to review our comment policy, which insists on good faith engagement by everyone who participates in this forum. We’re not here to provide a propaganda platform for organizations like the NRA.

  8. Samuel, I am attempting discourse in good faith without flame or rancor. I assumed you were speaking of “THE” Quinnipiac poll that has been quoted ad nauseum by everyone from our President on down and which, per Quinnipiac University involved a small sampling of respondents in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.


    I am no shill for the NRA sir, I am a thinking man offering you an alternative viewpoint based on admittedly debatable facts and logic which obviously conflict grievously with your worldview since you seem unwilling to discuss them amicably. And I have no idea who Mr Abaworlock is but agree entirely with him that few among us give the northbound end of a southbound rat about _slightly_ enhanced background checks when our own vice-President has clearly stated that the Feds don’t have time to prosecute felonies committed within our existing background check system.

    I do think we should be speaking to Russ’s article though, and since I’ve had my say on that I’ll bid you adieu with the wish of a fine day in the great state of Colorado where we both reside.

    • Re: the poll.

      1) What’s wrong with the other polls, then? No word yet on that.

      2) NJ, PA, and VA hardly strike me as states destined to yield a liberal bias. Characterizing PA and VA as “urban eastern states” borders on deceptive. Yeah, both have big cities. So does Kansas. But both are also home to VAST swaths of typically rural, gun-owning America. Hell, significant portions of both states are in Appalachia.

      3) Nothing you have said to this point is an acceptable indictment of the poll’s methodology (and I say this as a guy who is relentlessly critical of polling). If there was a problem with the sampling, then tell me what it was. “It was only three states in the eastern US” is not necessarily an indictment. In this case, I feel certain I could generate a representative sample on this question that would reflect national opinion within the established margin of error.

      Finally, the fact that you agree with abaworlock on the “rat’s ass” question doesn’t exactly dismiss the issue. I did a little Google snooping on the term and discovered that the phrase is enjoying extremely common usage over the past couple of months on a variety of gun-related questions. As a career PR and marketing comm guy who knows a good bit about messaging strategy (having done it at the Fortune 500 level), I have some theories as to where this meme came from. It’s behaving kind of like a dog-whistle and its rapid diffusion reminds of the 2008 election, when all of a sudden every conservative in America starting using the word “maverick” at the exact same moment.

      It’s possible that you simply saw the phrase and its contextualization somewhere and adopted it. The thing is, the kinds of places where it occurs and the willingness to appropriate it in just the fashion you have is sufficient to generate questions about your professed objectivity on the subject.

      In short, you may not be an NRA shill. If you aren’t, you’ll certainly want to stop using their vocabulary, I’d imagine.

  9. Samuel, I think that we are probably kindred spirits in many more ways than not. If you Google my name and look at TrekLens and the Astronomy forums that I moderate and partake in it may humanize your view of me.

    As for you, with more reading and research I see that you have many artistic and admirable traits including being one of, if not the ringleader of this site. For that I should say thank you for allowing my rebuttals without censorship. Good on you sir.

    Let’s let this argument slide, and allow me the newbee time to get my sea legs on this vessel, and I have no doubt that we will be entertaining each other with further discussions, possibly even on the same side of the fence.

    Warm regards,

    Frank Dilatush,
    Arvada Colorado

    • We appreciate informed contributions and aren’t the least bit troubled by those who disagree with us, so long as they’re intelligent and add to the discussion. On this issue, as well as others, we even have disagreements among ourselves…..

    • To Mr Balsinger regarding the link on our falling national deficit. Nice! However that is a macro view, if we pull the lens back for a broader angle as in the second chart in the link below it appears we are headed down the right side of the hill yet still have quite a ways to go.

      Good news in any event and the administration at the helm certainly gets the credit for the course change.


  10. Frank D (Charl Ley) wrote (and welcome to S&R):

    I took exception with the recurring theme that possession of a tool must make the owner fantasize about misusing it.

    I do believe that guns have become ergonomic and easy to shoot that they’re just itching to be used, just as it’s difficult to always drive within the speed limit in a Ferrari, etc.

    • Hello Russ, allow me to preface my comments by saying how thrilled I am, after wandering the wastelands of social media and Craig’s List Rants and Raves for a decade or more, at the blooming prospect of actually having adult conversations.

      In the context of your article I was pointing to what I saw as a fallacy in the initial premise of your argument. This gun proponent has no problem with extending the existing background check system to include all sales at gun shows with the caveat that the legislation be written clearly without weasel words or vague authority for future encroachment beyond it’s stated purpose.

      Frank referenced a well written synopsis of the potential problems with the Toomey-Manchin compromise in the Washington Post…admittedly a partisan news source which I won’t refer to as “right wing” for fear of invoking the ideologue label, but simply leave it that I agree words should be judged on their own intent and merit rather than by the mouth they sprang from.

      As to the itches of inanimate objects, we already have an extensive system of enforcement in place to deal with scofflaws of many ilks whether it involves Ferraris, Bushmasters, Ginsu Knives, pressure cookers, et cetera. I did take notice of Samuel’s contention that organizations such as the NRA might purposely short sheet legislation to foul it and in honesty, looking back at the 1994 assault weapons bill, that may have been exactly what happened. However, since long guns are used in such a statistically insignificant number of crimes every year (FBI stats) in seems moot to me, but not to someone who’s life has been ruined I understand.

      In any event, it is my contention that poor laws piled on top of questionably enforced existing laws will do little to nothing to increase public safety while making an impenetrable swamp that law abiding citizens can not possibly traverse without misstep.

      Did I mention I was happy to be here? Ecstatic actually!

  11. Was watching 48 Hours or some such the other night. Short version–middle class suburban wimp of a guy’s wife is cheating, goes to confront her, her boyfriend shows up, husband shoots boyfriend, grazes himself, claims self defense, gets convicted.

    The interviewer asked “Wish you’d never gone to confront him?” Answer: Yes. Asks: “Wish you’d not brought a gun?” Answer: Oh, no. He might have pounded my head into the pavement.

    If you’re a game theorist, he just weighted the possibility of a worse outcome with the certainty of a bad outcome. It’s absurd mathematics.

    Conclusion: Gun nuts cannot be argued with. Best policy is to arm them to the teeth and try to introduce them to each other.