Ruth Marcus: An initiative to seize on gun control

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: March 29, 2013
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Of course they should. In a perfect world — that is, in a world without the NRA — guns would be treated like automobiles. The government knows who owns a particular car and when, and to whom, it is transferred. These records are computerized and searchable.

The current record keeping system is straight out of Dickens. Manufacturers know where they have sent a new gun. Afterward, the paper trail becomes just that — on paper, in boxes stored in dealers' basements — and often runs cold after the first seller or two. The evidence of the check itself must be destroyed after 24 hours.

So how important is it to require private sellers to keep these records? More precisely, is the record-keeping requirement so essential that it is worth demanding at the risk of losing expanded checks entirely?

Gun control advocates argue that omitting such a requirement would make the expanded checks toothless, leading sellers to ignore them altogether. Some probably would.

Yet restaurants card would-be drinkers, grocery stores ask for proof of age from prospective tobacco purchasers — all without keeping records of such checks. The incentive to obey comes from the fact of the law's existence and the risk of random sting operations.

A second argument for record keeping is that it helps police trace guns used in crimes. Again, true. But the current record keeping is far from perfect and, in any event, the point of background checks isn't to solve gun crimes — it's to prevent them.

The criticisms of record keeping — unduly burdensome, a step down the slippery slope to gun registry — are specious and paranoid. That's infuriating but irrelevant. Background checks with record keeping won't get the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate. Background checks without record keeping will.

I'm reliably told that despite its continuing fulminating, the NRA may not actively oppose expanded checks without record keeping. Such a measure would be a huge achievement — a possibility to be seized, not squandered.

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