There is currently a bill before the New Hampshire state house, HB1589, that would require criminal background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms. Supporters of these so called “universal background checks” claim that they will stop criminals from getting firearms and will keep the public safe. The problem is, criminals don’t obey current laws, so another law won’t stop them. James Holmes passed a background check for the weapons he used. Adam Lanza stole his mother’s rifle. The shooter at Virginia Tech was able to pass a background check and legally purchase the two handguns he used. The very incidents that are used as “proof we need to do something” would not have gone any differently with the laws that are currently being pushed.
The introduction to the bill cites several statistics including “89 percent of New Hampshire residents support requiring a background check before every gun sale,” (See section I line j of the bill). Having taken Advanced Placement Statistics in high school, I know how easy it is to twist facts, so I decided to look into their numbers. Most of the “facts” that I could find a source for were taken from a press release (see the link below) by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group that financially supports gun control efforts across the country. The introduction to the law reads like Mr. Bloomberg’s talking points at anti-gun rallies.
Putting aside the fact that the research was funded by one of the most anti-gun politicians in America today, their facts are also flawed. While I was unable to find sources for some of their research (which raises other questions), the key source they did use had a few major problems. First off, the survey they cited was released in 1996, making it 17 years old by the time they used it. In addition, the citation states that “2,568 individuals, including 251 gun owners, were surveyed by telephone.” These numbers work out to 9.774% of the experimental population being gun owners. While estimates vary on the exact numbers of gun owners, the very statistics cited indicate 35-49% of households have at least one firearm, a long way off of the supposedly representative sample used in the survey. If these are the surveys Bloomberg’s organization used for sources, I’d love to hear how they reached their conclusion that “89 percent of New Hampshire residents support requiring a background check before every gun sale.”
Now, putting aside the questionable “facts” that the bill states in the introduction, let’s move on to the rest of the bill. The basis of the bill is that any transfer of a firearm between two individuals, assuming they are not family and that neither has a Federal Firearms License, requires a criminal background check to be conducted at an existing FFL. There are a few big problems with the bill and the wording of the exceptions it states.
First off, the bill states that “The dealer may require the purchaser or transferee to pay a reasonable fee.” While this statement seems simple enough, the bill fails to state what constitutes “reasonable.” Someone who doesn’t deal in firearms regularly (such as the politicians who wrote the bill) may see a $100 fee as perfectly fine. I currently see firearms dealers charge anywhere from $15-35 for an out-of-state transfer of a firearm (An out-of-state transfer includes purchasing a firearm from a seller in another state and buying a firearm online, both of which already require that the firearm be shipped to a licensed dealer for a background check). However, if all transfers of firearms in New Hampshire require a background check, it is not hard to imagine dealers raising their fee in an effort to make a greater profit.
Money aside, the bill has some major problems when it comes to exceptions. The bill states that a background check is not required for “immediate family members, which shall be limited to spouses, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.” While this part of the bill makes exception for gifts to close family, such as the .22 rifle my grandfather gave me for my birthday last year, it leaves out relatives that can often be equally close family. A close friend of mine often goes hunting with his uncle, and has occasionally (with permission) borrowed his uncle’s 30-06 hunting rifle for a day of hunting. If this bill passed and he did so again, it would be a class B felony.
As another example, I often go shooting with friends. Due to space constraints, we often have to take multiple cars, and just as often can’t fit all the firearms in just one of the cars. If this bill were to pass and I were to be riding in a different car than my rifles, I would be guilty of a class B felony. If this bill were to pass, the local Boy Scout troop would have a much harder time organizing their annual day at the shooting range. Normally, members of the range will loan their shotguns and .22 rifles to the troop for the day, so that the scouts can learn gun safety and work on the requirements for their merit badges. The passage of this bill would require the owners of the guns to be present the entire day and constantly watch over their rifles, instead of giving them to the troop’s certified instructors a few days before and getting the rifle back after the shoot. The passage of this bill would mean that even the best of intents would make honest New Hampshire gun owners accidental felons.
One last problem, and probably the biggest problem of all with this bill, relates to handguns and those under the age of 21. Federal law states that you must be 21 to buy a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, but makes an exception for those 18-20 with regard to private sales. As of now, I am legally able to buy a handgun on the private market, but that would change with the passage of this bill. Since the bill would require private sales to go through a licensed dealer, the passage of this bill would mean that many people my age could no longer buy handguns on the private market, despite the fact that the state of New Hampshire allows 18 year olds to get concealed handgun licenses. It makes no sense to allow someone to legally carry a loaded handgun on their person, but say that that same person isn’t responsible enough to buy that handgun himself.
So, why should you be against HB1589? Regardless of your stance on firearms, it’s hard to argue that laws like the one HB1589 would create would have actually made any difference in previous shootings. If a criminal will break one law, there’s little to stop them from breaking a few others while they’re at it. The only people HB1589 would really impact are the legal current and future gun owners of New Hampshire. Furthermore, much of the support from this bill comes from former mayor Bloomberg attempting to pass his agenda in as many states as he can.
The bill itself: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2014/HB1589.html (Note: This link currently directs to a different bill. I’m not sure when it was changed, but I’ll try to find the original text and post and update if I am successful)
Mayors Against Illegal Guns press release: http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/9/c9/0/1403/NH_MAIG_Release_030513.pdf
One of the sources cited in the press release, and the main one I reference: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/111422889?access_key=key-13behoq3l609ral7mnci&allow_share=true&escape=false&view_mode=scroll
Update: Today (2-12-14) the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 242-118 to kill HB1589.