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Common Ground in Transparency?

I’ve been thinking more lately about common ground in this debate, and why there’s none to be found. Chiefly I’ve been thinking about an idea that would, in theory, address a lot of concerns on both sides. But this, like many other ideas I’ve had, can probably be filed under politically infeasible. I’ve wondered why we don’t, instead of continually fighting over turning the ratchet up on down on who or who isn’t a prohibited person, we compromise, and put a bit more faith in social pressure instead of law?

Our opponents have shown that they are unable to think of owning a gun as a constitutional right, even if they’ve learned to parrot the saying post Heller. That’s apparent in the proposals that people should be prohibited from purchasing a gun because an army recruiter turned them down, or because they were kicked out of school, in response to the late tragedy. What’s next? Being a disgruntled recently fired employee? How is anything a right which is subject to such a whim?

It’s worth thinking about how this country survived for so many decades with no background checks at all. Years ago, before the advent of industrialization, people moved around far less. Most people probably never went beyond more than a few dozen miles or so from where they were born, and people knew a lot more about what their neighbors were up to before our mass migration during the industrial revolution. In short, the town gun maker or shopkeeper knew who not to sell guns to, because he likely knew everyone in town, and knew which individuals were trouble.

The revolution in transportation brought about by industrialization and urbanization eradicated that world. The chances that a gun dealer personally knows all his customers is practically nil. Combine that with modern taboos against discrimination in all forms, and you have a recipe for a situation where neither person in the transaction knows much about the other, but who nonetheless want to do business. This was the core situation the electronic background check was meant to try to solve, but to date we’ve tried to solve that only with black-and-white, one-size-fits-all laws, where the government is in charge of the decision making process. Personally, I put more faith individual people than I do in government.

I’ll concede for people prohibited by the current system, except the Lautenberg misdemeanors, we’ll keep that as is. Those folks will still be flagged as denied by the system. It will remain illegal to sell to those folks knowingly. But we’ll limit the scope of the outright prohibition to only that category. Beyond that we’ll provide the dealer with a complete five year history of arrests and convictions, and provided no disabling convictions, leave the decision up to him or her. Hell, in the name of transparency, let’s make it a smart phone or tablet app, available to everyone. All you need is a name, date of birth, and zip code, and you can run the same check a dealer does on anyone. Since we’re doing this, there’s little reason to restrict access based on state of residence at the federal level.

But our side will require immunity from civil suit for the decision, either way it goes. In other words, if the person is not prohibited, and the dealer or individual sells to them anyway, they can’t be sued for it. Likewise there can be no discrimination suit for turning a sale down. Otherwise it’s going to be an invitation to our opponents to attack us. In addition, even with immunity, our opponents will be quick to pounce the first time someone sells a gun to sumdood who was recently arrested of peeing behind a dumpster on his way home from a bar, but who later does something with the gun that ends up on the 6:00 news.

There’s something very attractive about the idea of replacing legal obligations with social pressure, but it requires everyone in the room to be adults. If there’s anything that the reaction to this recent tragedy has shown is that virtually no one in the mainstream media, or among our opponents, are capable of being adults, and accepting we can’t fix every problem with a new law and more government. I can promise you my model would work far more effectively at achieving the goals our opponents claim to desire, but they could never muster the trust required in their fellow citizens to accept it would work effectively. They’d quickly use the outliers as examples of how it didn’t work, and call for more laws. But under which model do you think more marginal characters would be denied access to firearms through lawful channels, while freeing up the law abiding to engage in less restricted commerce? It amazes me why they can’t see why there can’t be any common ground on this issue. Common ground to them is, “You agree with me!” Give and take is a foreign concept.

15 Responses to “Common Ground in Transparency?”

  1. Gene Hoffman says:

    I’ve often thought that there is a pretty simple way with a decent technology design to allow private sellers to conduct background checks online that don’t require the buyer to disclose too much personal information to the seller while not creating defacto registration. It would require the same trust of the government to not keep logs/records as we do today with NICS.

    It could start with civil immunity for any seller who uses the online system and gets a clean check.

    It’s a version of what you’re talking about but its need is in some ways more limited as per your earlier post today about straw purchases…

    -Gene

  2. Brad says:

    Real compromise and real solutions will never be accepted by the other side. Even so, we can still promote such ideas to our benefit.

    One thing that the other side continues to get away with is accusing us of being extremists, and claiming for themselves the mantle of public safety. Putting forward real solutions and real compromises is one more way we can expose the other side for the liars and extremists they truly are.

  3. Ed says:

    Here is how these things progress:

    First it will be voluntary.
    Then it will be “strongly encouraged” via lawsuits, etc.
    Then it will be mandatory, with criminal penalties for non-use.

    It won’t work (i.e. eliminate crime)
    Then the hoplophobes will look for something else to ban.

  4. Joe Huffman says:

    If the NICS check had improved public safety I would agree you but it didn’t. NICS and 4473s are a waste of time and money.

  5. Tam says:

    Combine that with modern taboos against discrimination in all forms, and you have a recipe for a situation where neither person in the transaction knows much about the other, but who nonetheless want to do business.

    I have turned down quite a few sales over the years because something “just felt hinky”.

    You may have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but you don’t have a constitutional right to make me sell you one.

  6. I think part of the problem is that the majority of anti-gunners (at least sub-consciously) see no legitimate reason to own a firearm. Firearms do not fit their world view. They are so pacifistic that they see violence, even in the defense of a child, as wrong.

  7. NUGUN says:

    Heck. Or just require 10 friends to sign off that they support your purchase. I figure people like Loughner would have a very tough time meeting that requirement.

  8. Jake says:

    Beyond that we’ll provide the dealer with a complete five year history of arrests and convictions

    If it were only convictions, I might agree. I’ve seen too many people arrested for perfectly innocent acts and have the charges dropped once the prosecutor gets hold of the case to think that adding mere arrests to the decision making process is a good idea.

    Just as one example, I know a guy who bumped someone’s car in a parking lot without realizing it (SUV v. BMW) and ended up getting arrested and charged with a felony hit and run – because even a minor dent on a Bimmer can be enough to push the repair cost over the felony threshold.

    All someone who runs a check is going to see is a felony arrest for hit and run. They may see a misdemeanor conviction connected to that, but that doesn’t tell them why it was pled down – considering how many serious crimes get pled down these days, how many people are going to refuse a sale based on that?

    From another perspective, how will a “contempt of cop” arrest look? Here, it usually is charged as “obstructing a LEO”, with our without force, depending on if the cop could arrange to be touched by the arestee. To someone who doesn’t know what happened, that looks like someone they won’t want to sell a gun to.

    Arrests tell nothing about whether someone actually did something – they are useless for determining if someone should have a gun or not, and can only contribute to a negative impression, whether it’s deserved or not.

  9. Sage Thrasher says:

    I think serious debate about gun rights is hampered by the “give an inch, they’ll take a mile” perspective on both “sides.” Unfortunately, this perspective is largely true when you look at many of the loudest, most persistent voices, i.e. those who make their living from controversy or being gadflies. Debate has to take place between reasonable people who can accept that arguments they disagree with are being put forward in good faith. This would exclude most of the media’s go-to people on the left, such as the Brady Campaign, as well as the tin-foil hat types generally classified as far right who believe any attempt to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people is automatically not only futile but a front for total gun bans.

    It is unfortunate that the shrillest voices tend both to attract the most attention and to prevent cordial debate that can help develop an initially flawed proposal put forth in good faith into a practical solution.

  10. In 1938, about half of all psychotics in the U.S. were institutionalized. Today, it’s about 5%. I blogged here about a recent study of people locked up for murder in Indiana 1990-2002. Of 518 inmates where there was enough data to determine their mental health, 95 had a “diagnosis of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder, major depression, mania, or bipolar disorder….” That’s more than 18% of the murderers. Any idea why background checks didn’t seem so necessary in 1938, but are today?

  11. Sebastian says:

    Both sides are well aware there will never be a happy middle where each stops struggling against the other. That’s why I find these calls for common ground so disingenuous. I can think of theoretical common ground, but if you start with the default assumption that all gun ownership is bad on one side, and the default (and correct in my opinion) that all gun control is folly on the other, where is the common ground?

  12. Jake says:

    I think serious debate about gun rights is hampered by the “give an inch, they’ll take a mile” perspective on both “sides.” […] Debate has to take place between reasonable people who can accept that arguments they disagree with are being put forward in good faith.

    The problem on our side is that we already gave that inch and they did take a mile, so now we’re just trying to get back to that first inch while they want to add another inch mile to the mile we already lost.

  13. Greg says:

    Interesting post and some valid thoughts/ideas. Along the lines of what Jake wrote, the pro-gun side has already given far too much for the sake of “compromise.” The bar has moved further and further to the left and we are labeled as “extreme” for trying to pull it back to the right.

    A couple of thoughts that seem to be ignored whenever this issue arises:

    1) Why stop at the Second Amendment? If “most people” think that certain restrictions are common sense, why don’t we have “common sense” restrictions on the First Amendment? After all, some of the biggest mass murders we’ve seen in the last few decades (think 9/11 and Jonestown) were a result of religion. Should we start making people do background checks before becoming part of a religious movement?

    2) Along the same theme, why don’t we propose legislation mandating journalists pass a background check and a sanity test (epic fail)? After all, some of the nonsense that exists today does so only due to journalistic ignorance.

    3) Why doesn’t anyone have to do a background check to buy a motor vehicle? Which kills more, guns or cars? Let’s say anyone convicted of a felony or a DUI can never buy a car again.

    Of course no one would go for those measures, nor should they. The point is, by combating the idiotic idea of gun control from that perspective it shows the ridiculousness of what we have today in terms of restrictions on the Second Amendment. In addition, it weeds out the true believers from the “compromise is okay” crowd in the firearms community.

    The point being: restructure the argument *for* the Second Amendment, rather than coming up with all kinds of defense strategies as to why we should have fewer limits on it.

    Tam made a valid point that goes back to simple free-market principles: FFLs should reserve the right to sell — or not sell — to anyone they choose. Will this prevent bad people from buying firearms? Of course not, but then we get into the philosophical debate of what, exactly, defines a “bad” person.

    And that’s just a whole separate can o’ worms…

  14. @SageThrasher
    “I think serious debate about gun rights is hampered by the ‘give an inch, they’ll take a mile” perspective on both ‘sides.”

    The problem with his idea is, how many more inches were Second Amendment advocates supposed to give. We kept on compromising with the other side from 1934 til 1994. The AWB in 1994 finally made people wake up and realize that they won’t be happy until all firearms in civilian hands are gone. After that, they will move on to knives and anything else they can think of. For proof of this, look at England.

  15. Sterling Archer says:

    I gave up on the idea of compromise with liberals long ago. How can you find common ground with a group whose goals are:

    1) eliminating the 1st amendment by criminalizing opposing points of view

    2) complete civilian disarmament leaving only the police and military with weapons (loyal only to the state, of course)

    3) complete government take over of every sector of the economy

    These 3 goals are the definition of tyranny. I fail to see how common ground is possible with people who want to kill or enslave me no matter how noble their intentions.

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