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What's the big deal about background checks?

Any background check system can be used for registration, and
registration is the necessary prelude to confiscation …

2008 "SHOT" Show. Photo: Lori D. Roets, LazyRPhotography

Among comments to my last piece, “Lautenberg gun show bill as bad as expected,” several were from well-meaning gun owners who honestly questioned why S. 843 – ostensibly submitted to close the “gun show loophole” – is really so bad.

A typical and knowledgeable comment went like this:

“I am a very pro-gun person. I own a couple of rifles and I will never support any [‘assault weapon’ ban]. I don't even support the ‘86 [McClure-Volkmer] automatic ban. But background checks should be required for any and every sale. If that means transferring it at the dealer, then fine.

"But any kind of government-kept record of who owns what I am strongly opposed to. Make the bill less ridiculous and get rid of all of the registration clauses and I will not oppose it.”

While reasonable and well-intentioned, the argument contains a presumption which, unfortunately, rarely pertains in politics: It presumes the intentions of the bill are honest. Below are the main three reasons why legislation purporting to require “background checks” is unacceptable.


After 15+ years of political action, I say with certainty that subterfuge is the rule rather than the exception: I have seen politicians claim undying support for a bill … just before firing an arrow through its heart. I have sat in the chamber as a legislator killed a bill by offering a “poison pill” amendment while assuring everyone: “This amendment is intended to make a good bill better.” I’ve been assured by a subcommittee chairman that a bill I opposed would never get a hearing, minutes before being told by the chairman of the full committee that it would be heard on Thursday.

In teaching legislative tactics seminars, I tell students: “Lest you think the political process is designed to exclude you, let me assure you that it is.” With few exceptions, politicians are weasels, and the few legislators with character I’ve met will never advance to higher office precisely because they are trustworthy.

Lessons of the Brady Act: In 1993, we were assured by Handgun Control, Inc. and the NRA alike that the National Instant Check System (NICS) would never be used to register guns. NICS transaction records, we were assured, were required to be expunged. Unfortunately, the fine print didn’t say when they had to be expunged, and the Clinton administration immediately instructed the FBI to retain them indefinitely, creating a de facto gun registration system in violation of federal law. Although the Bush administration ordered transaction records expunged in 24 hours, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have already proposed again retaining them.

Conclusions: You cannot create a “background check” system that manipulative politicians can’t turn into a gun registration system, as they already have. The goal of “gun show” legislation, in truth, is to not only decimate the gun culture which reinforces itself via gun shows, but to register private gun sales – in the case of S. 843 – with both the Attorney General and the FBI.

“Perhaps,” you say, “but what’s wrong with registering guns? It isn’t as though somebody is taking them away from you.”


No, this is not “black helicopters are after my guns” paranoia, nor is it a history of other countries like Britain, which rounded up previously registered guns after the Dunblane massacre. And I certainly won’t feed “that can’t happen here” fantasies by describing Nazi gun laws.

Nope. These are the “100% made in America” lessons of California and New York.

Self-evident is the fact that you can’t confiscate what you can’t find. Lest you think that is not the agenda of at least some Democrats, let me remind you of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s 1994 remarks to “60 minutes”:

"If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them -- Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in -- I would have done it."

California & “Roberti-Roos”

Ever the leader in leftism, California passed the “Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Control Act of 1989,” ostensibly in response to massacres in 1959 in San Ysidro, and in Stockton in 1989. The act banned semi-automatic weapons by name and “grandfathered” weapons registered with the state. In the years (and profuse litigation) that followed, however, California twice required gun owners who had dutifully registered their guns to turn them in, render them inoperable, or demonstrate they had been transferred out of state, all under threat of criminal prosecution, of course.

In 1999, California decided to reinterpret existing law, banning SKS rifles not previously included in the original law, and requiring gun owners to turn them in under threat of prosecution. Reported WorldNetDaily:

“One of the more famous arrestees was James Dingman of Santa Clara for possession of an unregistered SKS rifle with a fixed magazine.”

Even more egregious was California’s decision to expose owners of 2,000 guns registered under the law to criminal prosecution for the crime of actually registering them: Although Roberti-Roos required guns to have been bought by June 1, 1989 and registered with the California Department of Justice by March 30, 1992, Attorney General Dan Lungren extended the registration deadline.

On August 21, 1998, however, the Superior Court in San Francisco decided Lungren lacked the authority to extend the deadline. When Lungren’s successor, Bill Lockyer, later backed away from defending the registration extension, he exposed 1,500 previously law-abiding gun owners to prosecution. Said the Los Angeles Times:

“Putting close to 1,500 gun owners in legal jeopardy, state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has decided to drop a court fight defending his predecessor's controversial practice of registering semiautomatic assault weapons declared illegal by a 1989 state law.
“The decision means that the owners of almost 2,000 UZIs, AK-47s, AR-15s and 72 other types of assault weapons will face a fine and imprisonment if they do not turn in their guns, destroy them or take them out of California.

"’If they don't, they will be felons in illegal possession of an assault weapon,’ said Nathan Brankin, Lockyer's spokesman.”
“Yes,” you say, “but that was just a bureaucratic SNAFU. Such a thing could never happen intentionally. Let us now turn to the City of New York …

New York City rifle and shotgun registration

In 1967, the New York City Council passed, and Mayor John V. Lindsay signed, a law requiring New Yorkers to pay a $3 fee and register all rifles and shotguns, including make, model and serial number. Ignoring, for a moment, promises that the fee would never increase (at last report, it was $55), most ironic was the vow by The New York Times that the law “would protect the constitutional rights of owners and buyers.”

In 1991, the city council, at the behest of Mayor David Dinkins, passed Administrative Code, Sec. 10-303.1, banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Shortly thereafter, the NYPD kindly instructed the 2,340 New Yorkers who had complied with the registration law to return sworn statements the guns had been surrendered, rendered inoperable, or transferred elsewhere. NYPD deputy commissioner Jeremy Travis promised “spot checks” to ensure compliance.

Reports the NRA:

“The year after the ban was enacted, a man`s home in Staten Island was raided by the police after he had announced that he would not comply with the city`s ban. He was arrested, and his guns were seized.”


Beyond voluminous evidence that criminals don’t get guns from gun shows, Lautenberg and anti-gun politicians know full well that laws governing gun transfers are the same at guns shows as anywhere else. The “loophole” they plan to close is the private transfer of firearms by requiring all such transactions to go through NICS, and their motivation is to register each and every gun and gun owner.

In the exceedingly unlikely event you could produce final legislation not filled with the “gotchas” so adored by anti-gun Democrats, you could not draft a law that I could not eventually convert to a registration scheme. And as history has repeatedly demonstrated – not only in autocracies and foreign nations but in the United States – registration is the necessary prelude to confiscation.

I leave you with philosopher George Santayana’s adage, as true as it is trite: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For previous columns by Paul Valone, go to:
For legislative information, go to:




  • straightarrow 5 years ago

    Exposing cowards to truth make them hate you, but doesn't make them braver.

    One would need to be a coward to need to ask "what is wrong with this bill?". A person of moral and intellectual courage would already know the answer. Pretense of ignorance is a skill of deflection of responsibility.

    It is nice that you can answer those who ask that stupid question with equanimity. Some of us are just plain out of patience with them.

  • Paul 5 years ago

    With 100,000 like you, we would govern the world. I suspect you realize that it tests me too. Winning the war, however, requires numbers we do not yet have. Beyond the hard left, there is a contingent that responds to reason.

  • Eleven 5 years ago

    straightarrow, while I agree with you on most points here, I must caution you never to underestimate the power of true, unadulterated ignorance. There really are folks out there who could ask what was wrong with it, not know, and then be told. While these people are little better than the foaming-at-the mouth gun haters, because of their ignorance, they can be swayed and it is important because their numbers are so large.

  • oatka 5 years ago

    After the "gunshow loophole", there is the "classified ad loophole" and the "father-son heirloom transfer loophole", ad nauseum. Always at the bottom of these laws is eventual registration. (They can't seize 'em unless they know where they are.)

  • Grateful biz owner 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for this important piece. As a gun dealer, I want to know that if I sell a gun to some guy that flips it out on the streets to some gang-banger who uses it to kill some innocent kid, there will be no registration out there to prosecute the guy I sold it to nor any reason for me to ask anyone that wants to buy from me.

    I think I'm going to order some nukes from my store too. 2nd amendment doesn't say anything about what kind of arms I can have either, therefore it is my constitutional right to own nukes.

  • Paul 5 years ago

    Grateful biz owner:

    Thanks for so neatly mis-stating the issue since, as you would be aware (f you were really a Federal Firearms Liscensee):

    1. The purchase from a licensed dealer you describe would require: (a) A computerized NICS check; and (b) A federal Form 4473, which you would be required to retain permanently.

    2. As the FFL completing the initial sale, you have no control over whether somebody subsequently sells it to a gang-banger. But then, if we create a background check requirement for private sales, I am sure the gang-banger will comply, right?

    When it comes to gun control, ignorance seems to be bliss. In your case, some are more "blissful" than others.


  • MamaLiberty 5 years ago

    Don't lose sight of the fact that gun registration or background checks of any kind would not be right or good regardless of the honesty or good intentions of the politicians.

    Total registration of automobiles can't prevent misuse or crimes committed with them, and never has. Neither would the tracking or registration of knives, matches or anything else used carelessly or in a crime.

    Only people are responsible for what they choose to do. Most of those choices cannot be predicted in any meaningful way by those around them, much less by a faceless bureaucracy.

    The most appropriate response to a criminal act, regardless of the tool used - including bare hands - is a strong defensive action by the intended victim. And that's only going to happen if they have free access to the appropriate tools.

    You wouldn't try to dig a ditch with a teaspoon.

  • Grateful biz owner 5 years ago


    The point is without the need for registration, you make it harder to catch and prosecute the guy that sells the legally purchased gun on the street.Thanks for missing the point, I hope your aim is better than your reading comprehension.

    When you people realize that most of us gun control advocated don't want to take your guns, we just want to make it a hard as possible for them to be out on the street and easy as possible to prosecute those that commit violent crimes, maybe you'll snap out of your delusion of the government randomly showing up at your door to confiscate your precious precious guns.

    Real men hunt with knives

  • Grateful biz owner 5 years ago

    "Total registration of automobiles can't prevent misuse or crimes committed with them, and never has."

    Really Mamaliberty, you think so? Something tells me cars become a lot more attractive to thieves once they realize that you can't trace the fact it's stolen. Something tells me people found guilty of hit and runs are found guilty because we track ownership of all vehicles so we can find and prosecute them.

    But you just believe whatever you want. I'll be out stealing your car, as I'm sure you did not register it or put your name on the title, right?

  • Paul 5 years ago

    Grateful biz owner:

    Well thanks for not calling me names, at any rate. It is a refreshing change from the practices of other gun control advocates.

    As for my "comprehension," it is spot on: The point is that via gun tracing and the 4473, you can already trace the firearm to at least the first buyer. If that buyer is a criminal, you can create all the registration/backgbround check requirements for private sales in the world, and they simply won't comply. As always, gun control only impacts the lawful.The lawless press on, unimpeded.

    And no, I don't think *you* are interested in showing up at my door to confiscate guns. Unfortunately, however, you are the useful idiot for those who would.

  • Doug 5 years ago

    Grateful biz owner appears not to "get it"!

    "The point is without the need for registration, you make it harder to catch and prosecute the guy that sells the legally purchased gun on the street."

    No, that is not the point. The fact is that criminals will not comply with registration, and that once the criminal has control of the firearm, the original registrant is no longer a factor in the commission or solution of the crime. It is a means for government to 'control' weapons, ultimately to confiscate them from well-intended registrants.

    "When you people realize that most of us gun control advocated don't want to take your guns"

    "You people"? Gee, thas sounds so inclusive. :)

    You surely do want to take our guns, and registration is essential in that endeavor.

    "...we just want to make it a hard as possible for them to be out on the street and easy as possible to prosecute those that commit violent crimes,"

    Guns do not go 'out on the street', criminals take them there. Registration will not deter a criminal from crime. Another law is of no consequence to one who would kill or threaten
    to for gain. Lawfully registered guns are seldom used in crime by their registrant, but then they are law-abiding. Get it yet?

    "maybe you'll snap out of your delusion of the government randomly showing up at your door to confiscate your precious precious guns."


    As Paul points out in his article, exactly that has happened already in the U.S., England, Australia, in fact everywhere that guns are 'registered. The freedom the guns enable is certainly precious.
    If anyone is delusional it is Grateful biz owner.

    "Real men hunt with knives"

    Uh, Gbo, it's not about hunting! :)

  • JohnH 5 years ago

    Grateful biz owner, We've been filling out 4473's since 1968, and doing background checks since the mid 1990's. They have yet to show any statistical drop in the crime rate. Why should we think that requiring honest folk to fill out yet one more form is going to change anything? Criminals by definition do not obey the law, why should we think they will obey yet another? Also, in what way does it benefit the governments anti crime efforts to know what I have in my home? The 2nd Amendment also says "shall not be infringed" Just what does this mean?

    It is disingenious to think that police detectives need to know the source of a firearm used in a crime to catch the perpetrator. It shows a complete lack of understanding of investigative methods. And since most firearms used by criminal elements are stolen, why should we think there will be a 4473 filled out on it? Tracing it to the last previous known owner will only result in being told it was stolen. What was learned that would solve a crime?

    I'd really like to know your honest answers to these questions.

  • Gerald 5 years ago

    "When you people realize that most of us gun control advocated don't want to take your guns..."

    I think the examples Paul used in his article point out that that's exactly what happens.

  • RoyB 5 years ago

    Paul -
    THANK YOU for that piece!
    I'm discussing "reasonable" gun laws with several people in the Virginia legislature, and the details of the California and New York experiences are precisely what I'm going to need in the next round.
    Please keep up the good work.

  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    How about starting with common sense regulations like background checks on voting or free speech?

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