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April 26, 2013

A Libertarian Case for Expanding Gun Background Checks

By ROBERT A. LEVY


NAPLES, Fla.

LAST week, senators blocked a compromise measure that would have compelled unlicensed sellers at gun shows and online gun sellers to conduct background checks, despite polls that showed that 90 percent of the public supported the idea.

I’m a libertarian who played a role in reducing handgun restrictions in the nation’s capital. In 2008, in a landmark case I helped initiate, Heller v. District of Columbia, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to bear arms.

But the stonewalling of the background check proposal was a mistake, both politically and substantively. Following a series of tragic mass shootings, public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of reasonable legislation restricting the ownership of guns by people who shouldn’t have them. There was also plenty in the proposal that gun-rights proponents like me could embrace.

The compromise — carefully negotiated by two moderate gun-rights supporters, Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania — should be reintroduced in the Senate. I am convinced that, with some modifications, it could still be passed, because it would add reasonable protections for both gun owners and sellers.

Gun-rights advocates should use this interval to refine their priorities and support this measure, with a few modest changes. If they don’t, they will be opening themselves to accusations from President Obama and others that they are merely obstructionists, zealots who will not agree to common-sense gun legislation.

The focus on background checks should not distract gun owners from the positive provisions in the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

It would allow Americans to buy handguns from out-of-state sellers, which is not allowed currently.

It would explicitly prohibit the creation of a national gun registry, and make it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to misuse records from the national database used for background checks.

It would affirm that unloaded guns with a lock mechanism in place can be transported across state lines.

It would immunize private gun sellers from lawsuits if a gun they have sold is used unlawfully, unless the seller knows or should have known that the buyer provided false information or was otherwise ineligible to buy a gun. Extending background checks to unlicensed sellers shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Background checks are already required for purchases from federally licensed dealers, whether at stores or gun shows, over the Internet or by mail. Moreover, gun buyers would be exempt from background checks if they had a carry permit issued within the last five years.

To my mind, the Manchin-Toomey proposal needs additional improvements to satisfy the demands of certain gun rights advocates. These changes might have helped save the proposal, which was supported by 54 senators — six votes short of the supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster.

The proposal should also exempt certain rural residents who live too far from a licensed gun dealer for a background check to be practicable.

Currently, dealers can charge up to $125 for background checks. If these fees are supposed to promote public safety, the taxpayers — and not just law-abiding gun owners — should foot some of the bill. And more F.B.I. staff members to manage the database would also help expedite the process.

In the current proposal, background checks at gun shows would be given priority over checks at gun stores. The government needs to hire enough staff members to promptly conduct checks at both places.

Current law denies gun permits to anyone who uses, or is addicted to, a controlled substance. The punishment for omitting this information on a background-check form is up to 10 years in federal prison — a penalty that is too harsh for someone who has merely smoked marijuana.

In the days since the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, advocates of gun restrictions have gone on the offensive. Gun-rights supporters should not stand in the way of reasonable reform. The Manchin-Toomey proposal, with the changes I’ve suggested, would offer substantial benefits while imposing tolerable restrictions, none of which intrude on our core Second Amendment liberties. Gun-rights advocates should get behind it and push for its passage.


Robert A. Levy, chairman of the board of the Cato Institute, is the author, with William Mellor, of “The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom.”
 

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I didn't know that some of those pro-gun "sweeteners" where in there.

I'm of the mind that the Dems needed a big defeat on guns to get them off the pedestal they thought they were on. Now that we accomplished that, I believe that it is time to negotiate from the equal position that we are in to figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of the certified mentally ill while ensuring that we don't impact law abiding citizens.
 

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Do you want everyone who buys and sells firearms to be subject to mental health exams? I mean there are hundreds of the FFL holders nationwide that are probably just as mentally unstable as buyers. Everyone has the potential to snap at times. FFL holders don't have to under go any mental health exams(yet). Having worked in the mental health field for a number of years and dealth with them on a professional basis for many years I can tell you that many of them are borderline basket cases. Most are anti-gun and liberally bent in their political persuasion. Do you think the gruber-in-mint will adher to the letter of the law in the application of any restrictions? You also seem to be assuming that everyone who can get their hands on a gun go thru legitimate channels. Sorry!!! No compromise, we gunowners are only responsible for our own personal behaviours and not restricted or accountable for the nut jobs,irresponsible and criminal factions of our great Republic.
 

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I'm not assuming anything. I said what I meant: now that the Dems realize they are on equal negotiating ground, the republicans, particularly those who understand firearms, can discuss improving ways to further limit the access the mentally ill have to firearms. Anything you believe I'm assuming is coming from your mind outside of the words I just typed above. I've dealt with plenty of illegal firearms and shootings, enough to know exactly where illegal guns come from. If I had anything to add about that into my original thought, I would have added it rather than allow YOU to assume more.
 

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Don't give an inch.
 
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