Friday, March 22, 2013

The comedy and tragedy of FBI instant background checks

So much debate in Delaware over the propriety of FBI instant background checks for virtually all gun purchases ...

... and so little information about the background check system.

This is critical because proponents of such checks have a belief that expanding them will dramatically improve public safety by limiting those who can possess guns, while opponents (including me) see an even greater unconstitutional police state in the making.

So I went to the source:  the Government Accounting Office's July 2012 report on FBI Background Checks.

What I discovered (and I am not through parsing it) is that the system is bizarre mixture of Charlie Chaplin and Big Brother.

For example:

The GAO report erroneously lists Delaware as ALREADY requiring background checks for ALL gun purchases, including private transactions.  Either the agency was psychic, knowing already in mid-2012 that HB 35 will be enacted into law, or just inept.  But it certainly makes me wonder how far I can trust their reporting of the status of other states' laws, since the one example I know about they misreported.

Or take this:

We supposedly are interested in keeping guns out of the hands of the "mentally ill," right?  Well, don't depend on FBI background checks to help you with that, as only two categories of people are currently reported in that status.  You have to have been formally declared "mentally defective" by a judge, or have been "involuntarily committed" to a mental institution within the past few years.

Ironically, since his mother had not gotten him committed by the time he murdered her, Adam Lanza would have passed an FBI background check on his mental health basis.  (For those who erroneously think an FBI background check flunked Lanza, guess again.)

Or how about this:

Any conviction for unlawful drug use, including marijuana possession, can be used to rule out your passing an FBI background check for up to five years.  OK I don't like that at all, but here's the kicker:  "noncriminal" evidence of illicit drug use can be utilized by the FBI to deny you the right to purchase a firearm.  What does that mean?  Well, you have to drill down fairly deeply to figure it out, but there are actually scenarios under which failing a drug test for your employer, even when it does not result in prosecution, can be used by the FBI to prohibit your purchasing a weapon.

Intriguingly, the jury is still out (the report was written before the last election) on whether simply being a citizen of Colorado, where pot is now legal, could prevent you from ever being able to purchase a weapon.  I'm not kidding here.  The fact that certain drugs are now legal in some states and not others is actually of no concern to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.  The Federal government says marijuana is an illegal drug, and either criminal or noncriminal use of the substance prohibits you from buying a weapon.

So, let's say you have a marijuana conviction on your record and you move to Colorado where marijuana use is now legal.  Your former marijuana use will prohibit you from purchasing a firearm even though it is completely legal in the state to toke up.

Finally, there's this:

For you proponents of FBI background checks out there, GAO basically discovers that in most states they are something of a joke because--despite a whole program of rewards for compliance and penalties for non-compliance--most states don't even report a fraction of the data that they are supposed to report. In some categories, virtually ALL the data available is from only one or two states, and there are many states don't even cross-reference arrests with convictions.  There is some indication in the report that you could actually be denied purchase of a firearms simply for having been arrested for a crime, even if you were subsequently not tried or tried and acquitted.

What a great system.

The worst of both worlds:  Big Brother is after you even for non-criminal drug use, but Charlie Chaplin is so inept that half the time he doesn't keep the records that Big Brother needs.

Upshot:  Liberals, make yourself feel better by enriching gun shop owners and disarming recreational marijuana users, but don't kid yourself that you are setting up a barrier to the mentally ill or the seriously criminal.  Libertarians:  keep fighting.  The main ally we appear to have in this is the incompetency of the State.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is my concern with the whole part about mental well being. Who makes that decision if you are mentally compentent? So if I have ADHD/ADD will I not be allowed to own a gun? How deep will these 'checks' go? IF i call my employer sponsored and contracted well-being counselor and say I am having a tough time and feeling really down will that be considered on my check?


Im all for banning the ridiculous assult weapons. I really dont see the need for those in private citizens, but the checks and the mental background history is really big brother way overstepping bounds.

We are all gung ho to rehabilitate violent criminals to get them back on the street so they can be productive members of society but if i take an anti-depressant i am too unstable to own a .22 target rifle. Ridiculous.

delacrat said...

I have doubts about background checks.

Adam Lanza's mother by all accounts would have passed a background check.

Delaware Watch said...

"We supposedly are interested in keeping guns out of the hands of the "mentally ill," right? Well, don't depend on FBI background checks to help you with that, as only two categories of people are currently reported in that status. You have to have been formally declared "mentally defective" by a judge, or have been "involuntarily committed" to a mental institution within the past few years."


Well, you are definitely leaving out some of the revisions that have been proposed to address this issue: like setting up a reporting system whereby mental health professionals report patients who have made explicit threats to harm others. So you've taken how the system has operated and represented it as how it will operate even if revised. Speaking of which, have you considered how the system is limited precisely because of restrictions placed upon it through the lobbying of the NRA? Certain statistics can't be federally kept on gun deaths for the purposes of study because of the NRA's efforts. Where has been your outcry about this restriction, this deliberate attempt to hamper the transparency of information? It seems as a Libertarian you would be all over this. Did I miss that post?

Steve Newton said...

Really nice straw man, Dana.

"You've taken how the system has operated and represented it as how it will operate even if revised."

Go look at the proposed revisions. There's nothing in them like you suggest, at least not for mental health reporting.

And it is special pleading that is beneath you to suggest that the fact that states don't have linked databases for arrests and convictions is somehow due to NRA lobbying. Really? Show me.

I notice you also slid by the fact that while the mental health portions of the law are hopelessly weak and archaic, non-criminal drug use can be used to deny someone a firearm.

My point is that past performance IS an indicator of what we can expect, and the GAO lays it on the line here: the system doesn't work.

Nothing in HB 35 would change how the system is nonfunctional IN THE SLIGHTEST.

tom said...

"Im all for banning the ridiculous assult weapons. I really dont see the need for those in private citizens,"

Anonymous, please describe the specific criteria that should be used to determine whether or not a particular firearm is an "assault weapon"

Tasha Boone said...

As I was reading your post, I remembered the past issues of violence in America. A lot of innocent lives were lost due to gun related violence. Yes, I agree with you that we cannot depend on the FBI’s psych records alone to rule out if a person is mentally incapacitated to own a gun. We need to peek into a person’s mind to evaluate him, and this needs a team of qualified people such as the FBI, a psychologist, and so on. There are a lot of agencies out there who specialize in this field, and hopefully, they’ll be able to set up a screening system wherein each applicant will have to pass all of their psych tests. Tasha Boone