Gun lovers and haters agree that background checks should be mandatory for all sales. They’re already required when firearms are purchased from licensed dealers. But the leadership of the National Rifle Association opposes this reasonable reform, even though 74 percent of its members support it, according to a January survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Nonetheless, the NRA is fiercely lobbying in statehouses and Congress to block this reasonable reform, which lends credence to the suspicion that the organization founded to promote the interests of hunters and sport shooters is actually working on behalf of firearms manufacturers.
To get an idea of how far NRA leadership has drifted from the mainstream, consider that its leader, Wayne LaPierre, testified in 1999 that closing the gun show loophole, which allows for private sales without background checks, was “reasonable.” Now, he calls it “a nightmare.”
And so it goes in Olympia, where the NRA has laid siege to a bill – HB 1588 – that would require background checks for private gun purchases (antiques excluded). One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, is a police officer who until now had received the top rating from the NRA. He’s tried to contact the organization’s leaders to work with him on the bill, but they won’t respond. Instead, they’re sending members “URGENT!” alerts to contact Hope to get him to stop.
Hope’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Spokane Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, and several other legislators, would require a prospective gun buyer to undergo a background check, which would be conducted by authorized dealers or law enforcement. The cost could not top $20. It’s the same oversight that occurs if one were to buy from a retailer. The goal is to prevent purchases by people who are barred from gun ownership due to criminal or mental health histories.
NRA leadership says it doesn’t want such people to have guns either, but it hasn’t offered any reasonable solutions. Instead it invokes a dystopian future in which government uses background-check information to confiscate all guns. HB1588 calls for background data to be destroyed after 90 days.
The NRA says criminals would avoid background checks, so the law would only punish law-abiding citizens. But that’s an argument that could be used against any law. Why outlaw murder if criminals will ignore it? About 1 percent of gun transactions were denied by background checks between 1998 and 2008, according to FBI data. That sounds low, but it stopped 681,000 purchases. Some of the would-be buyers headed to the private market.
The website Armslist is one place private shoppers find guns. On Wednesday, a Bushmaster rifle, similar to the one used at the Newtown, Conn., massacre, was listed for sale in Spokane for $1,600. It retails new for about $1,300. We don’t know the particulars of this sale, but one reason for buyers to pay more than retail for a used weapon is to avoid background checks.
The state needs to close this dangerous loophole.