A referendum question will appear on the November ballot asking Oak Park voters if they believe Federal legislation should be enacted requiring universal (i.e. nationwide) background checks of criminal and mental health records for all transfers of ownership or possession of firearms, including transfers that take place at gun shows, over the Internet and privately. The referendum question refers to universal background checks (UBC) as a step toward preventing the ownership or possession of firearms by criminals and those with serious mental illnesses.
The implementation of such legislation would create a minor inconvenience for otherwise qualified citizens wishing to take part in the transfer of ownership or possession of a firearm. They would, likely, have to go to a licensed firearms dealer, fill out an application and wait a few days until the background check is completed before the firearms transfer could take place.
The most immediate and far-reaching benefits of such legislation would be the creation of uniformity among the states with respect to required background check processes and the closing of the gaping loopholes for which no background checks are currently required. Gun-show, Internet and private transfers would all require background checks.
It is disingenuous to argue against the adoption of UBC legislation simply because it will not, in and of itself, end the cycle of gun violence in our cities or that it will not, in and of itself, prevent further senseless tragedies. To be sure, a nationwide background check system alone will not stop gun violence in our cities or prevent those with serious mental illnesses from committing atrocities like the one committed in Sandy Hook. UBC federal legislation would, however, represent a necessary and substantial step in the right direction.
There are a number of common-sense initiatives (i.e. other “steps”), like stiffer sentencing for illegal firearms possession, limiting the acquisition of firearms, for example, to one per month (negatively impacting the ability of “straw purchasers” to do business), and prohibiting the sale and/or possession of ammunition clips that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition (greatly reducing the devastation that can be inflicted at the hands of a seriously mentally ill person) that, if taken in conjunction with federal UBC legislation, can begin to turn the tide against gun violence in our cities and help prevent senseless tragedies like Sandy Hook.
None of these proposed common-sense initiatives are new, and none of them should come as a surprise to anyone who has even a slight interest in the gun rights/gun control issues. Nationwide background check legislation, however, is the linchpin mechanism through which all of these other initiatives flow. Without a uniform, loophole-free, national system overseeing the transfer of ownership and possession of firearms, neither existing firearms laws nor proposed common-sense initiatives, like those mentioned above, can be truly effective.
It is beyond disingenuous to argue against UBC legislation because criminals and the seriously mentally ill will not obey the law, leaving only honest and qualified citizens with the burden of honoring such a law. First of all, enacted UBC legislation would create nothing more than a minor inconvenience for the honest and qualified citizens who would be subject to it.
With rights come responsibilities and compliance with UBC legislation would be a small price to pay for the enjoyment of one’s Second Amendment rights.
Finally, if the acid test for the adoption of legislation is “whether or not criminals or the seriously mentally ill are likely to comply with it,” I seriously doubt that much worthwhile legislation would ever be adopted.
Good legislation requires enforcement.
If the real reason for opposition to UBC legislation is based on the unwarranted belief of the gun rights side that “if you give the gun control side an inch, they’ll try to take a mile,” and I suspect that it is, then there is little hope that gun rights proponents will support any type of gun control legislation, no matter how rational.
When you walk into your polling place in November and you see the Universal Background Check referendum question near the bottom of your ballot, remember that four months after Sandy Hook, 85% of the American public and 60% of the NRA membership favored federal UBC legislation, and that 56 U.S. Senators voted in favor of UBC legislation, only to have it defeated because the Senate rules require that 60 senators vote in favor of such a measure to be filibuster proof.
That does not mean that UBC legislation is dead. It only means that its passage has been delayed. Please vote YES in November to the Universal Background Check referendum question on your ballot.
Ray Heise is a member of the Gun Responsibility Advocates Committee.