With his announcement yesterday that the Justice Department will seek to toughen definitions of who counts as an arms dealer and then must run mandatory background checks on potential clients, President Biden is taking another small step in the direction of broadly reimagining what people get guns and how in the united states.
The changes build on last year’s welcome but limited gun law after the Uvalde school shooting, and could bring us closer to a more-than-reasonable requirement for universal background checks, rather than allowing some sellers to hide behind of legal loopholes.
We would consider the driver’s license and auto insurance laws and regulations more or less meaningless if you could get around them simply by buying your car from an unregistered seller at some sort of auto show who (wink, wink) definitely wasn’t a dealer. Of automobiles. Apply this to any controlled business activity you want and it makes the same sense. Can you legally sell liquor from the trunk of your car without checking IDs? Can you have an unlicensed business that provides legal advice and representation as long as you don’t call yourself a lawyer?
This has been a basic and obvious principle for as long as we have had efforts to regulate firearms, yet the loudest and most extreme pro-gun voices who falsely claim to represent the views of responsible gun owners have argued continually that it is somehow unreasonable to expect basic compliance and standardization among gun dealers.
Will perfect compliance with background check processes prevent any bad, unstable, or ill-intentioned person from getting a gun? No, and no one should expect it, just as no one ever said that seat belts will save all the lives that would otherwise be lost in a traffic accident. The point is that we’ve decided that overall having these rules in place will be better for everyone, and having glaring loopholes calls into question their effectiveness. Congress should take the hint and go back to the drawing board.