Editor’s note: Former OP police officer Brian Slowiak, a member of the gun rights side of the Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee, recently expressed support “in principle” for universal background checks, but he also submitted a number of questions about how to implement such a system. Former village attorney Ray Heise, a member of the gun responsibilities side of the committee, wrote the following response. Because of its length, we will be running it in two parts.

Brian Slowiak’s recent questions [OakPark.com] about a universal background check (UBC) system go far beyond the level of information we should be providing for any proposed system of checks prior to the transfer of any and all firearms. Much of this detail will be developed in the legislative process by legislative staffs and the various agencies assigned the responsibility of administering the legislation and, after adoption, the enactment of rules and regulations and litigation in the courts. 

But we can engage in discussions on details to enhance the comfort level of those earnestly considering the proposal and to demonstrate the reasonableness of the proposal to those who remain skeptical.

In last week’s One View [Getting specific on background checks, Viewpoints, Jan. 22] we proposed real-time criminal history checks. We floated the CHRI system (Criminal History Record Information) as the vehicle through which real-time criminal history checks could occur and referred to Illinois legislation, effective Jan. 14, as evidence that the state is also focusing on real-time records checks to attack gun trafficking. 

We need a similar vehicle for real-time mental health checks. There is also support for limiting gun purchases found in the as-yet-uncontested city of Los Angeles ordinance, which prohibits more than one gun purchase per month.

We are not wedded to any one given solution to a problem. What follows is one of possibly many reasonable solutions. Our goal is to demonstrate that a reasonable solution does exist for potential problems, but we remain open to other possibly better solutions.

We should also examine the failed legislation proposed shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., when 57 U.S. senators were prepared to vote for it, but 60 votes were required to overcome a filibuster.

The following responses have been written simply to demonstrate that there are reasonable solutions to the host of hypothetical problems suggested by Brian in his questions, and that, yes, universal background checks do make sense in the real world.

Question one (9 parts): Does a firearm about to be transferred need to be tested to ascertain the firearm is in working order, thus a firearm? Who conducts the test? Where is the test conducted? How is the test conducted? If the firearm does not fire, is the person or whatever the object is now subject to a universal background check? What about parts of a firearm? My 9mm Glock comes apart in four parts. Suppose I sell each part separately? Is that a transfer subject to a uniform background check (UBC)?

Response: In order to be transferred, all firearms should have a manufacturer’s serial number clearly stamped on them. All firearm transfers should be subject to the universal background check process. All firearms presented for transfer should be presumed to be functioning firearms. If parts are sold by the manufacturer, a serial number, manufacturer’s name and model of firearm should be stamped on each part so sold. Parts should also be sold through the UBC process.

Question two (11 parts): Will there be a witness to the transfer? Will the transfer be notarized? Sworn to? What are the sanctions? Does a transfer include someone borrowing or using my firearm at a range for say six hours? Eight hours? 24 hours? What if the firearm never leaves my sight? What if the firearm leaves my sight? Do police departments have to report a transfer of a firearm if they take a firearm in custody? Why or why not? How do you record forcible transfers?

Response: The transfer of firearms will be overseen and recorded by a federally licensed gun dealer (FLGD). Photo IDs and whatever gun owner’s authorization is required at the time, and proof of insurance, should be produced for and copied by the FLGD and maintained as a part of the transfer record. Thumb prints could be taken and maintained as a part of the record, as is currently required in the city of Los Angeles. The signatures of all parties to the transfer should be notarized and, as such, will be sworn to. An affidavit, executed under oath by the purchaser, and notarized by the licensed gun dealer, attesting to the fact that the applicant has not purchased another firearm within the last 30 days should also be required. The “one firearm purchase within any 30-day period” limitation on gun purchases and the affidavit in support of same are both law in Los Angeles at the present time. An application form would necessarily be developed as a part of the process and the entire record of the transaction would be required to be maintained by the licensed gun dealer for an indefinite time frame. Backup record storage requirements will also be necessary. Licensed gun dealers will be authorized to charge a transaction fee to compensate them for their time, effort and expense in fulfilling their duties under the proposed UBC process.

It makes sense to authorize ATF (federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and the state police to oversee the background check process and to conduct random, and periodic, record and process checks to ensure compliance with it. Sanctions will have to be established at a level that is commensurate with the serious nature of the public health and safety concerns being addressed by the UBC process, and must be adequate to ensure compliance with it. 

If a qualified person is permitted by the owner to use the owner’s firearm in the presence of the owner, that temporary use by a non-owner should not require submission to the UBC process. Any loan of a firearm beyond that limitation, should be recorded through the UBC process. The lendee must possess the same qualifications as an owner to legally possess a firearm. The owner and the lendee should remain civilly liable for any damage or injury caused by the lendee’s use of the owner’s firearm while in the possession of the lendee.

When firearms are confiscated by law enforcement as illegal contraband, they are normally destroyed. Some economically distressed local governments have authorized the resale of confiscated firearms to the public. In either case, the action should become a part of the permanent record on each firearm. In order to maintain the integrity of the chain of ownership of the firearm, a record of the law enforcement agency’s action, be it confiscation and destruction or resale, should be recorded with the same FLGD that recorded the last transfer of the firearm prior to the law enforcement agency taking possession of it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the destruction of the firearm or just another transfer in the chain of ownership and custody of the firearm. The end goal of the UBC process is to give law enforcement the ability to trace the ownership of any given firearm and to hold the appropriate persons accountable, both criminally and civilly, for the misuse of the firearm. 

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8 replies on “Universal background checks: A Q&A”