THE BLOG

NRA Missing Opportunity for Reasonable Compromise on Background Check Bill

06/15/2015 01:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

You may recall that for many years both the State of Idaho and the NRA were represented in the U.S. Senate by Larry Craig, who until he was arrested for tying his shoes in an airport toilet, spent as much time promoting the interests of gun owners as he supported the interests of the voters who sent him to Capitol Hill. In 1997 he crafted and submitted the first attempt to create a national concealed-carry licensing system which was basically patterned after the state-to-state reciprocity that we all enjoy when driving a car; namely, if it's valid in one state, it's valid in all. Following Craig's political demise, other pro-NRA politicians took up the issue of national CCW, continue to submit a bill every two years, and while the measure has never passed, it creeps steadily forward bit by bit.

I started thinking about national CCW when Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland representative who is running for the Senate, introduced legislation to create a permit-to-purchase (PTP) process to cover the transfer of all handguns by giving federal money to states in order to cover administrative costs. Basically, the feds would pay each state that would implement some kind of pre-purchase vetting system requiring a background check prior to the FBI-NICS check that occurs when a federally-licensed dealer sells anyone a gun. Van Hollen's bill, which of course will go nowhere until Democrats regain control of Congress, would allow each state to establish its own rules for a background check process covering the transfer of all handguns, regardless of whether a subsequent NICS check also occurs.

The PTP process exists in a number of states, but it usually takes the form of some kind of general licensing procedure which then allows the licensee to acquire any number of guns as long as the PTP-issued license remains in effect. New Jersey, on the other hand, requires a separate permit for the purchase of any handgun; New York City goes one better by requiring that each handgun purchase requires not only an individual permit but also a police inspection of the weapon before the transfer is complete. Most states imposing any degree of PTP usually issue a blanket eligibility or ownership license but all guns acquired from dealers must still undergo the NICS check.

Basically, any form of PTP imposed on buying a gun would both slow down the process, as well as weed out people whose gun access would represent what we are all trying to prevent, namely, guns getting into the 'wrong hands.' To support his national PTP bill, Van Hollen cited a new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins which examined the impact of the Connecticut PTP law that went into effect in 1995 and may have contributed to saving as many as 300 lives over the following ten years. While the PTP implemented by Connecticut may or may not be a basis for comparing the outcome to what would happen in other states with other PTP laws, it's pretty hard to ignore what happened to Connecticut's gun homicide rate after the PTP went into effect.

Leave it to the NRA of course to both pooh-pooh Van Hollen's bill and get it wrong when it claimed that its members "don't want to ask permission of the federal government to exercise constitutional right," even though the law would help states, not the feds, keep guns out of the wrong hands. But you would think that someone at NRA headquarters would realize that Van Hollen's bill would be the perfect vehicle for getting the holy grail of all gun bills passed, namely, a bill extending concealed-carry in all 50 states.

If the NRA would stop pretending to be the valiant defender of the 2nd Amendment, they could offer something both logical and reasonable for both gun safety and gun rights. Because what Van Hollen wants for PTP is what basically exists for driver's licenses, which is what the NRA wants for CCW as well. Who's going to blink first?