Kris Kobach: When People Without Gun Experience Pass Gun Laws

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters just after the Democratic-controlled House approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, the first major gun control legislation considered by Congress in nearly 25 years, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

The Democrats’ latest legislative achievement in Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives is a perfect example of what happens when people who have no clue about a subject draft legislation on the topic.

Along with a small handful of Republicans, they passed H.R. 8, dubbed the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” The bill was touted as a measure to close the so-called “gun show loophole” by forcing informal transfers of firearms to first pass a federal background check by a federal firearms licensee (FFL). Unfortunately, the bill goes way beyond requiring background checks for gun show purchases. It restricts all kinds of gun transfers between law-abiding friends and family members who know each other perfectly well.

To hear the mainstream media describe it, the bill is a reasonable compromise with exceptions to allow gifts between family members. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the exceptions are narrow; and the bill drastically restricts such transfers.

For example, the bill does allow close family members to give each other firearms as gifts without first going through a federal background check. But the exception only applies to transfers involving spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

It doesn’t include firearm transfers between in-laws, cousins, or friends. If the Democrat authors of the bill were actually gun owners who regularly used guns, they would know that many guns are given or sold perfectly safely in this manner.

Personally, I own three such guns. My father-in-law gave me a deer rifle years ago. And when an elderly friend and hunting companion of my family passed away, his widow wanted me to have two of his favorite shotguns. Now, whenever I hunt with those guns in the field, I remember him fondly. None of those transfers posed any risk to the public.

But under the Democrats’ bill, law-abiding citizens would have to first take their firearm to a gun dealer to run the background check. For the widow of my elderly friend, that would have been an unreasonable burden. Such gifts between friends and family happen all the time.

Equally unrealistic is the narrow exception allowing people to temporarily lend their guns to others while hunting or at the shooting range. The bill requires that the owner of the gun be “in the presence of” the person borrowing the gun.

Evidently, the authors of the bill have never actually hunted. When I lend my buddy a deer rifle so that we can go deer hunting together, we don’t actually stand right next to each other.

I may be in one tree stand, and he may be in another stand half a mile away. Indeed, the farther away the better from a safety perspective. That’s how it works, unless you are teaching a young person to hunt—in which case you really do deer hunt “in the presence of” one another.

The same goes for pheasant hunting or waterfowl hunting. A hunting party will often split up to cover multiple fields or multiple blinds. When it does, the hunters are no longer “in the presence of” one another; and therefor they would be committing a federal crime if one hunter lent a gun to another.

Finally, there’s the lack of any price limit on a fee paid to an FFL who does the background check for the private transfer of a gun. In many rural parts of the country, there may be only one gun dealer within a hundred miles. As correctly pointed out by Amy Swearer of the Heritage Foundation, that gun dealer has an incentive to make the price of such private transfers expensive, in order to discourage them and drive more business to his own shop. I would not be surprised if some FFLs charged upwards of fifty bucks to do a background check—significantly impeding such transfers.

Not that we expected anything different from Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives. They have made it clear from the start that they have little regard for our Second Amendment rights.

On top of that, these flaws in the bill indicate that the Democrat authors have little understanding of the use of guns in the lives of everyday Americans. If the Democrats get their way, a generation from now, far fewer Americans will have such experience with guns.

Kris W. Kobach served as the Secretary of State of Kansas during 2011–2019 and is a guest columnist for Down Range with AWR Hawkins. He is also an expert in immigration law and policy and, during 2001–2003, he served as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief adviser on immigration and border security at the U.S. Department of Justice. His website is kriskobach.com.

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