Last week, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association testified before Congress on the subject of universal background checks for all gun sales in the country.
The focus during the hearing was the “gun show loophole.” The “loophole” allows a private dealer to sell arms without administering a background check. A private dealer in this case is defined as someone without a license and who does not sell arms regularly.
LaPierre’s statements quickly gained a lot of media attention due to apparent contradictions with the last statement he gave before Congress in 1999. In his last statement, which was shortly after the Columbine shootings, LaPierre stated that "We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."
Contrast that with his recent statement from last week: “background checks will never be ‘universal’- because criminals will never submit to them.”
When pressed for the reason why he changed his opinion so drastically, LaPierre stumbled from one weak response to the next, while mostly avoiding the question. He argued that excess burden would be put on law abiding citizens if they were forced to administer background checks before selling firearms. He also stated that criminals could not be stopped from purchasing firearms by a simple background check.
The only merit to this argument is that it went beyond the tired rants of big government infringing on gun owners' freedom and rights. Apparently, LaPierre believes that despite our best efforts, criminals will go on to commit the crimes they were destined to commit. Why bother putting into place restrictions and checks on lethal arms if criminals will just procure them illegally?
This attitude is dangerous and flat out wrong. Instant background checks are useful deterrents for people who have a violent or mentally unstable history. LaPierre’s arguments do not even logically follow: he supports background checks from licensed dealers, yet does not support them in private cases.
The distinction between a private sale involving a firearm and a public one is not wide enough to forsake something as important as a background check. LaPierre may have worries about the costs imposed on the dealer, but these costs are passed on to the purchaser by most licensed dealers, and could be handled similarly at gun shows.
Another of LaPierre’s dubious claims is that instead of the hassle of background checks, we should overhaul the mental health system and include people with a mental history in the NICS (criminal background check system).
So, LaPierre proposes that instead of expanding a useful tool we already have, we should look to fix the infrastructure and outreach of an entire branch of healthcare. This implausible proposal aside, LaPierre’s second idea of expanding the NICS to those with a mental history still does not address the issue fully. Even if we did expand it, what good would the check do if it is not in use at private gun shows?
The contradictions in the NRA’s position are telling of the issue - the only option we have to ensure maximum safety under the law is to close the “gun show loophole.”