Bad Journalism on Private Sales

If I were running a high school newspaper, I would have sent this article back for rewriting. But this is what passes for journalism today, apparently, at least for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This is perhaps one of the most juvenile editorials I’ve seen on the topic of private sales of guns, regarding a proposed bill in Ohio that would ban private sales, and direct everything through dealers for a ten dollar fee, fixed by the state.

This big problem routing everything through dealers is that it’s just a matter of who’s ox gets gored. If you let them charge market prices, you’re going to be paying anywhere from 30 dollars to 50 dollars for each firearm transferred. If you limit the fee to 10 dollars, you’re screwing the dealer out of his right to make a livlihood.

It’s amazing how many of these folks, who consider this whole background check thing an essential public service, don’t want the public to pay for it. As a matter of law, can anyone think of another instance where the government can force someone to provide a service for a fee set by the government? The only cases I can think of are being conscripted into military service, and being called for jury duty, both of which have deep roots in common law. Are there any other examples?

15 thoughts on “Bad Journalism on Private Sales”

  1. The CPD is barely one step above the free alternative weekly around these parts. It’s amusing to watch them carry water for politicians they like.

  2. Vehicle inspections, at least in Texas. You are required to get an annual safety and emissions test (emissions are on a county-by-county basis based on EPA clean air standards, so they aren’t everywhere, but they are predominant).

    If a garage, mechanics shop, or some other automotive services company wants to be able to perform these inspections, they themselves have to be certified and licensed by the state (it’s the only way they can legally purchase the inspection stickers to be placed on cars) and they can only charge the fee set by the state.

    They can’t even offer discounts on other services bundled with the inspections.

    My understanding is that this was an attempt to not pick winners and losers, implement some sort of crony capitalism, or otherwise skew the marketplace. It puts all inspection providers on the same footing.

    Now, the downside is that if you are a mechanic or automotive services shop in Texas, you pretty much shoot yourself in the foot if you DON’T offer inspection services. Oh, and that means you have to keep up on all the OBDII testing gear, and software updates, and all that, so there are ongoing expenses. Even the quickie lube places get licensed, or they’d lose too much business.

    Having lived there for 12 years, it’s so much more convenient to take it in and say “oil change, rotate the tires, and a state inspection please”. About the only places I can think of that don’t offer it are the tire warehouses, because they don’t do any of the other services.

    1. That’s close. But a shop can still, at least technically, decline to offer the state service, and still do other business. From my understanding of this bill, dealers would be forced to offer the service at the state price as a condition of doing business at all. But that’s pretty close, for sure.

  3. That bill . . . is it a CSGV shell that they push all over the place? It sounds identical to one of the bills they tried here in Illinois a couple of years ago. The NRA’s lobbyist killed it pretty neatly by pointing out the same Catch-22 you found–you have to screw someone to make it work. When they first ran it, they didn’t specify the rates and purchasers were going to get gigged. They tried to fix that with the $10 cap, which didn’t mollify gun owners at all (Gee, thanks, you’re not going to charge me as much for your pointless make-work program?) but enlisted the FFLs because most figured $10 wouldn’t cover payroll cost for the amount of time that was going to be put in, not to mention the added legal weight of taking on responsibility for record-keeping and inventorying other peoples’ sales. They already do this for interstate sales, and some will tell you honestly that their prices for interstate transfers are deliberately prohibitive for exactly those reasons.

    In any case, what they created was a situation where they could have pitted purchasers against FFLs to see who was going to take the haircut, but instead it ended up with both groups refusing to accept the bill for their own reasons.

  4. Simple solution… allow private sales. Provide a sales receipt (downloadable/printable) and free access to NICS.

    With a place to enter the NICS check ID#.

    Not that I support such a system. But it seems a much better system than a ban on private sales.

    1. That’s – IIRC – more or less how Oregon’s “Gun Show ‘Loophole'” law works; private sales at a “gun show” (however they defined it, I can’t recall) require you to call in to the State and have them run it through NICS, for a fee (which is naturally added by the seller to the price of the gun).

      I don’t support it either, but if “background checks for everyone” is politically unavoidable in some locality, that’s the way to do it – cheap, easy, accessible with no bull.

    2. Unfortunately, if you don’t screen the people who can do NICS checks they’ll be abused for fishing expeditions, background checks, etc.

      Worse, the most sensitive information they have is the mental health info; granted, it’s supposed to be of involuntary commitments which have to be a matter of public record (so that people can’t be disappeared that way) but states are loathe to freely share it. I would expect some to stop sharing if this happened.

      1. Harold,

        The only way I would accept something like that is a clearinghouse approach. Regular citizens would not get access to the database. Instead, they would have a toll-free number they can call. They would provide the pertinent required information, and get back simply a “yes” or “no”, and a reference number.

        No other information would be provided as to why the prospective purchaser was declined.

        Oh, and the prospective seller would not have to provide any identifying information. It would be anonymous for them.

  5. You’re right that it’s not a perfect analogy, because it’s not compulsory on the business owner’s part, and least not by state law.

    But it’s effectively compulsory from a competitive standpoint, because you pretty much won’t be in business if you don’t offer it.

  6. This used to be the law in Indiana for handguns. Enforcement was impossible and the compliance rate as a percentage of all transfers was maybe in the single digits.

    Indiana abolished it upon implementing instant checks in ’98.

    How will Ohio enforce this statute–Jedi Mind Tricks? If the statute cannot be enforced does it not weaken all laws?

    How is this statute not a prior restraint on a fundamental right?

  7. Ohio doesn’t have weapons registration now. So out of all my guns I own, only one is actually traceable to me, as it is the only one I have purchased from a dealer. All the others were bought from private citizens, and don’t have any paper trail behind them at all.

  8. So I actually went and read the bill. It’s stupid, and it won’t do a thing to stop private sales. They literally took the approach of a “gun show loophole”, and the NICS check is only required for transfers that occur on the premises of the gun show, including the parking lot.

    If you come to my house, my garage sale, or the local swap meet I can still sell it to you (as long as I’m offering less than 25 weapons for sale or transfer or less than 3 entities offering guns for sale), and no FFL involvement is required.

    So, it does not close down private sales at all, which is what the mis-named gun show loophole is really all about. I find it hilarious that they’ve actually managed to confuse themselves with their own propaganda.

    Oh, and, the only redeeming factor is that it does not require any FFL to perform the check on demand by anyone for the $10 fee. It merely requires that the gun show promoter will ensure that at least one FFL is on location that will perform the check for the prescribed fee. So, if you are an FFL at a show, you are not legally required to perform the check. Considering all of the record-keeping requirements, that’s a good thing, too.

    Probably the worst part of the law, which I’ve seen no one address? If there is a down-check, a no-go, a red flag, whatever you want to call it, the FFL is required to report that to the CLEO of the jurisdiction in which the gun show was held within 24 hours (I believe it was). If they fail to report, they are guilty of a first degree misdemeanor.

    I wonder how that would work for an attempted sale on a Saturday. The CLEO will have to set up some sort of reporting mechanism so that reports can be submitted on Sundays. And if I was an FFL, I’d damned sure want some sort of case number or other official acknowledgement, not just a blind email box. That will increase compliance costs for the state as well.

    I would be interested to see what the sentencing guidelines are in Ohio, because even misdemeanors with more than a year of jail time render someone a prohibited person, do they not?

  9. The only thing registration does is make the anti’s feel better. It aint nothin but eyewash. I’d like to see the stats on how many crimes registration has prevented!

  10. And then there’s the situation that’s found in DC. What if there is no FFL? At this time, there may be only one in the entire city.

    This idiocy about background checks so that we can worry about what “might” happen is crazy. Do we run background checks on buyers of printing presses or web servers? Imam Al-Awlaki’s preaching resulted in more death at one time then private sales at gun shows or elsewhere.

    We have NCIS because felons and crazy people are not supposed to own guns. I’ve come around to say…screw it. Background checks don’t work. Felons that want to commit gun crimes will get guns. Felons, or more properly, ex-convicts, that will not use the gun in a crime, won’t, but will have it for lawful purposes.
    “Crazy people” that are a danger to others should be locked up, not loose and medicated. If they are NOT adjudicated, for whatever reason, they won’t be in the system.

    “Shall not be infringed.” just makes everything so much simpler.

  11. Many municipalities force lawyers to do some pro bono work defending the indigent. It can be quite annoying, to get a call saying that a judge is ordering you to drop your paying work with tight deadlines to come down to the courthouse right now.

    The cost of state-mandated vaccinations, for humans and companion animals, is usually fixed by the state. The doctors/veterinarians have to charge a fixed fee (but essentially ignore the law, because they can also charge separate fees for the visit).

    Stores that sell car batteries and motor oil are required to accept used batteries and oil for free (and there is usually a rebate given to the customer for returning the car battery). Sure, those costs of doing business are built into the pricing, but it is still a government mandate of providing service.

    Restaurants that serve hot prepared food (ie not vending machines) are required by federal law to provide free water (ie water fountain or free cups of water) and also free restrooms (ie toilet and sink) to all interstate travelers. McDonalds is always getting fined under this law, because they want to charge for the cups or limit the restrooms to paying customers only.

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