UPDATE: As expected the Senate passed SB 941 on Tuesday, 17-13, with only Democrat Betsy Johnson joining the 12 Republicans in opposition to the bill.
Democrats in the Oregon Senate on Tuesday expect to pass SB 941, the bill expanding Oregon’s background checks to people who seek to buy firearms from private gun owners. I wish its supporters could point to a single provable fact to make this bill worthy of becoming law.
Instead, as I’ve said, the bill has a certain logic. We are requiring gun buyers at stores and gun shows to pass a background check by the FBI, so why not other legal buyers too? The trouble is that logic alone is not enough.
Nobody, for example, has inquired whether the existing background checking is doing any good, which ought to be the main question. Some 99 percent or more of gun buyers clear the background checks because they are not criminals or known mental-health cases. Many of the rest are denied by mistake. So basically, almost everybody who goes through the system is not barred from owning a firearm.
We have strict laws that felons must not own a gun, and the law imposes extra punishment for committing crimes with guns. And yet we know that countless people are arrested for being felons and owning guns, and the impression is strong that every criminal who wants a gun either has one or can get one. So the basic question is: What good is the background check system doing? And if it’s not doing much except create a lot of work, why make it cover even more legal sales?
The Brady campaign for gun control testified that people can find firearms advertised on the Internet. It cited one example: In March somebody offered a Ruger 10/22 plus ammo in the Bend area on an online site and added “No background check” to his ad. So what? A 10/22 is good for plinking and maybe pest control, but there’s no reason to worry that a felon will want to buy it to commit more felonies.
Supporters of this bill may sincerely believe it will reduce crime, but what about a fact or two? When the federal background check system took effect in 1998, did it accelerate the general decline in crime that’s been going on for decades now? Did gun ownershop among Oregon criminals decline, or did gun crime go down, when Oregon voters expanded the background check system to gun shows in 2000?
And what about the bit about keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable? Do Oregon mental health practitioners routinely report the names and Social Security numbers of their unstable patients to the FBI or the state police? If so, this might be an unwelcome surprise to their patients. If not, how does a background check apply to them?
And finally, there’s still the question of whether the beckground check results in a gun registry. I didn’t think so, but then I learned that the law allows the state police, which is the “point of contact” for FBI background checks in Oregon, to keep the records for five years. Really? Maybe that is one of the many questions legislators ought to nail down before they enact this law. (hh)