Recently, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- who in the early 1990s was the House sponsor of the Brady Act and the federal "assault weapons" and "large" magazine ban of 1994-2004, and the ill-fated, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink "Brady II" bill -- introduced S. 436, the multi-faceted "Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011." Its simplistic and misleading title aside, this bill dispels any doubt about the goal gun control supporters have had in mind ever since they began harping about "closing the gun show loophole" more than a decade ago.
Schumer's "fix" bypasses the question of gun shows altogether. In fact, the term "gun show" appears nowhere in his bill. S. 436 proposes that virtually all private transfers, regardless of location, be subject to National Instant Criminal Background Check System checks. The exceptions would be extremely narrow; in many cases, even lending someone a firearm would be subject to federal regulation.
Near-universal NICS checks for firearms transfers, if coupled with allowing the FBI to retain records on approved firearm-related NICS checks, as proposed by the Brady Campaign, would achieve near-universal federal firearm transfer registration. That, in turn, would move gun control supporters one step closer to their goal of registering all firearms and firearm owners.
In fact, Schumer's bill would put information on private transfers more directly into the hands of the federal government than is currently done for dealer sales. S. 436 would require any dealer who handles a transfer between non-dealers to record information identifying the firearm and its transferor and transferee. That's the same kind of recordkeeping required for dealer sales currently.
However, S. 436 would also require the dealer to notify the U.S. Attorney General of the transfer, presumably in the interest of expanding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' dubiously-useful firearm tracing empire. Though the notices would not identify the transferor and transferee, it doesn't take a clairvoyant to envision subsequent calls for the notices to identify them too.
With its usual level of candor, the Brady Campaign still pretends that it believes federal law should be changed merely to prevent "strangers" from buying guns at "gun shows" from people who are not dealers. Begin at 5:30 in this Megyn Kelly interview of Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke. (Ms. Kelly's interview with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is at the beginning of the video.)
S. 436 is not just about "gun checks"
Most gun owners agree that the current background check process can be improved -- primarily by improving the accuracy of the records it uses, both to ensure that gun sales to dangerous people are blocked and to ensure that qualified, law-abiding Americans can buy firearms without needless delays or denials.
Yet, although Sen. Schumer touts his bill primarily as one to change the background check process, it would also greatly increase the number of people who are prohibited from possessing any firearm, with little regard for every American's right to due process before being stripped of a fundamental civil right.
For example, few would question the need to prevent gun possession by a person who suffers from mental illness that makes him a threat to the community. But S. 436 would also prohibit the possession of firearms by any individual required to receive mental health services, regardless of whether the person poses a danger to himself or to others or is able to manage his own affairs.
Likewise, few would dispute that more than one recent mass murder might have been prevented through earlier intervention by those who had spotted warning signs. Normally, law enforcement and mental health officials have the power to initiate a mental health evaluation when a person's behavior causes concern, but S. 436 would go considerably further by requiring institutions of higher learning that receive federal funds to establish "mental health assessment teams" and a process by which the teams can refer students to state or local mental health authorities for mandatory evaluation.
In another provision so severe that even Brady Center president Paul Helmke says he has "concerns" about it, S. 436 would redefine the term "unlawful user or addicted to any controlled substance."
Few would argue against the existing ban on gun possession or purchasing by habitual users of illegal drugs, but S. 436 would allow an "inference" that a person is an unlawful drug user or addict if the person has been convicted or arrested (regardless of outcome) for the use or possession of a controlled substance within the past five years; has been arrested (again, regardless of outcome) for possessing drug paraphernalia within the past five years; has had a drug test indicating illegal drug use within the past five years; or has admitted (to anyone, apparently) using or possessing a controlled substance unlawfully within the past five years.
In practical terms, this means that if a person was arrested four years ago for possessing drugs, but the charges were dropped (maybe because the police made a mistake and the person didn't possess any drugs at all), S. 436 would still allow an "inference" that the person is an "unlawful user" -- requiring agencies to report the arrest record to NICS, and even creating a threat of prosecution. As the Brady Center's Helmke puts it, "[There is] the whole innocent-until-proven guilty concept coming into play here."
This provision would mark a drastic change from the law as it stands today. Currently, the courts and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives interpret the Gun Control Act's drug-related prohibition to require current or recent use. To prove that, BATFE regulations require a pattern of convictions or arrests, especially within the most recent 12 months. This narrower definition reflects what most people understand: that a single indiscretion does not always reflect a predisposition to destructive behavior, and that a person can break a pattern of destructive behavior and turn his back on drugs permanently. Schumer's proposal would hardly be the first time gun control supporters have staked out a position based upon an ideological assumption. Instead, it's yet another attempt to deprive people of a constitutional right without due process of law.