Friday, July 29, 2005

Illinois Gov to close gun show loophole, maintain database of gun buyers

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will sign legislation today requiring background checks for all gun buyers, closing what law enforcement advocates see as a back door for illegal purchases of firearms.

I strongly support full background checks for all individuals interested in owning a firearm. Each state should have clear guidelines on who is eligible to purchase a firearm and each gun owner should be required to register his/her gun with the states. With current technology, the waiting period that an individual must endure can and should be reduced. A background check is not an overly burdensome violation of privacy rights for the purchase of a firearm.

A second bill, which Gov. Blagojevich plans to veto, will allow the state to maintain, indefinitely, a state database that contains records of all gun purchases in the state.

On this issue, I share the concern of the NRA (never thought I’d write that phrase) that the maintenance of a state database with information on all gun purchases infringes on the privacy rights of legal gun owners. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and others have long campaigned for a bill to allow the state to maintain this data in an effort to prevent gun runners and gangs from purchasing weapons. However, an effort to prevent a few individuals from purchasing a quantity of firearms is not a compelling reason to maintain a database of all background checks.

Neither proposal is going to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Closing the gun show loophole will help to keep guns away from gangs and dealers. However, in maintaining, indefinitely, a database on all gun purchases, the state is overstepping its authority and infringing upon the rights of law abiding citizens.


At 5:31 PM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

Hey, Joe ... I'm not saying I disagree with you about the database being too much of a violation of privacy. I'm undecided about that, and it's unclear exactly how that would help control illegal ownership of handguns.

But I'm not sure how harsh a restriction it is on privacy, either. There is a database on drivers licenses ... it's a public safety issue, to keep track of who has the right to drive. Of course, opponents say driving is a privilege, not a right, on public land, so let me think up some other examples.

In many places, you have to have a license to own a dog. Again, public safety, and in this case not very much an infringement on privacy. Buying property is another example ... everyone has the right to buy land, but it is carefully recorded and openly available for all to see. In most places, you can go online to find out who owns a piece of property, how much they paid for it, and whether or not they paid their tax last year.

Now, I don't own a gun. I've never even fired a handgun. So I can't speak for gun owners. But I can't help but wonder why it is egregious for the government to know I own one. What's there to hide?

It's interesting to me that there are a lot of "privacy" issues that come up in the modern era. But "privacy" is a fundamentally changing dynamic. Hundreds of years ago people knew all their neighbors and pretty much everyone in the same town, in most places. If someone committed a crime, for example, everyone pretty much knew about it. Citizens of a town interacted with each other constantly, and knew - to a large degree - each other's business.

Anonymity, however, has been much easier to achieve due to advances and changes in the modern world. Larger cities, frequent moves, advanced technology. And now whenever new technology comes along that can reverse some of that anonymity, there tends to be strong debate about it, primarily between public safety concerns and privacy issues. One example: video cameras on street corners, in bus stations, and in high-crime or high-traffic areas.

As I said before, I don't disagree outright. If there's no good reason to keep such a database on gun owners, then the government doesn't have the authority to do so. But if they can defend the practice in some way, and show it could be helpful in controlling crime without being discriminatory, then how on earth could it be harmful to the individual gun owner?

In my mind, it's up to the government to show how such a law could help. If they do that, then it's up to the gun owners to show how it could be abused or harmful to them. "It's none of the government's business" simply isn't a compelling enough reason for me.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I am the more pro gun rights of the two of us here at TYL, so let me see if I can answer why a gun owners database is a bad idea.

Really, it comes down to the potential for abuse. I don't want the police to come knocking on my door everytime a 9mm is used in a crime just because they know I own a 9mm. Would they actually do that? Unlikely. But they could. In fact, they could use my gun ownership for many kinds of profiling. But just becaue I own a handgun (I don't, btw) shouldn't put me under any more suspission than anyone else. Particularly when you consider that a large number of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns. And, think of this, what if I were black or Muslim and owned a gun and the police could find that out. There is serious potential for harrassment.

The fear or threat that I would be under greater suspission simply for owning a gun would put a chilling effect on the whole right to own a gun. Constitutionally, the government can't infringe on my right to own a gun, and yet a permanent database would have that effect.

Also, the 2nd Ammendment was written out of a desire to prevent the government from taking away people's guns. Remember, one of the actions that put the spark to the Revolution powder keg was when the Brits started stealing the Colonists armaments and gun powder. A gun owners list would make it really easy for the government to find and take people's guns away (as conspiratorial as it sounds, it's not out of the realm of possibility if a city were under some sort of emergency)

You probably find all this logic to be a little suspect, but it really comes down to how important you hold the Second Amendment. I find it interesting that many of those who scream bloody murder everytime the 1st or 4th Amendment is stepped on are often silent when the same happens to the 2nd (the reverse of that is also true, I am aware)

I used to be very, very anti-gun until I studied the issue much more in depth and studied the Constitution much more closely. Now I am fairly libertarian about guns. I know my position is definitely a good deal to the right of center and would probably offend the sensibilites of many of my fellow Centrists, but it is an informed opinion that I did not arive at lightly. It is also a matter I feel could use more honest public debate. There is too much rigidity from both the pro and anti-gun lobbies (ah, see, there I sound like a Centrist again).

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Joe Weedon said...

The other issue here is that the data kept is not simply a registry of who owns what type of gun. Information from the background check is kept with it.... This is more than simply a gun registry - which I really don't have much of a problem with, though Alan may.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

You're right, Alan ... there does need to be more debate on the issue. I'm fine with taking a position and backing it up, but, honestly, I don't feel an overwhelming personal stake in the issue, as I've hardly been affected by any sort of gun violence. (I say hardly only because I was robbed once at gunpoint ... but given the circumstances, it wasn't particularly traumatic.)

I haven't decided yet if my position changes given Joe's comment about the background check staying on file. Years ago I drove a cab for a bit, and a background check was required for the license. I assume it is still on file somewhere, and that doesn't bother me, but I have no experience with that file being misused in any way.

Anyway, here's a couple of points to add to the debate. First of all, I've found FindLaw to be an excellent source for legal commentary, with as much background material as you could wish for. Here's their analysis on the 2nd amendment. I'll just point out one item which I wasn't previously aware of. They say that, regardless of the debate between individual rights or state's rights in the interpretation of this amendment, "it is a bar only to federal action, not extending to state or private restraints." Which means, basically, cities or states can restrict guns any way they want to. I don't think there has ever been a successful challenge to gun restrictions in the courts, regardless of whether or not they were federal statutes ... though if you know of one, I'd be glad to read it. There is actually very little precedent on the issue.

The other thing I wanted to mention is a point I raised in a similar debate years ago. I checked the FBI statistics on gun violence at that time. Without verifying the numbers - I remember them fairly close - there were about 30,000 deaths by gun in one year (which includes homicides, suicides, and accidents ... taking out the last two would divide that number approximately in half, IIRC), and about 200 'justifiable homicides' in the same year. So a very rough account would be about 150 deaths per one 'justifiable' death that year ... that is, 150 acts of violence vs. one act of protection.

I admit this is a very rough account because these numbers give no indication of the propensity to kill during the commission of a felony, nor do they address the propensity to kill in the prevention of one, or how many people are saved by these justifiable homicides. (Also, I didn't verify my memory on this, so I encourage you to verify the numbers yourself.) For this comparison to be useful, a more detailed analysis of gun violence is needed ... preferably by someone more knowledgeable than myself. ;-)

Nevertheless, the 150-to-1 ratio - if even close to accurate - seems a high price to pay for personal protection.


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