LETTER: Common sense eludes vote on background checksTo the Telegram: Although my experience with cases involving gun violence after 24 years as a judge in northern Wisconsin was nowhere near that of those in law enforcement and other related fields or even of judges in larger cities, it was sufficient to recognize the need for some form of reasonable gun control on a national level.
To the Telegram:
Although my experience with cases involving gun violence after 24 years as a judge in northern Wisconsin was nowhere near that of those in law enforcement and other related fields or even of judges in larger cities, it was sufficient to recognize the need for some form of reasonable gun control on a national level. And while I acknowledge the fact that many criminals have a habit of acquiring guns illegally anyway, that maxim does not negate the fact that expanded background checks can only serve the obvious common good of assisting more commercial firearms sellers in avoiding having to sell guns to people with a history criminal conduct, mental illness or domestic violence.
There, I have to question Sen. Ron Johnson’s vote against the firearms bill put together as a compromise by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, two conservative senators from opposite sides of the aisle whose voting records have an A rating from the NRA. Neither can be considered an avid gun control advocate by any measure. I wonder what harm he foresaw in expanding the requirement of background checks to sales other than just those made by federally licensed gun dealers. Since the latter constitutes a small fraction of total guns sales in the country each year, wouldn’t it have been prudent to support this very reasonable and modest bipartisan effort. Didn’t Johnson believe that expanding background checks to sales at gun shows, over the internet in the other commercial settings, could impact the ability of dangerous individuals to purchase firearms legally?
I understand the arguments against this legislation advanced by representatives of the NRA and other related interest groups. Such criticism included claims that it would have diminished gun owner and 2nd Amendment rights, that it would have placed an unnecessary burden and cost on law-abiding citizens, that it would have led to more government control and regulation by creating gun registries that could be used to confiscate guns in the future or to identify owners and invade their privacy, and that this bill represented an overreach into the area of private sales. I also heard the claim that many law enforcement agencies oppose this legislation. I’m sure there are other criticisms as well.
Nevertheless, it seems that most of these assertions are so general in nature and unfounded in fact that they lose credibility when weighed against the probability that this bill would most likely have saved lives if it had become law. Furthermore, contrary to the wish of many gun control proponents, the bill itself contained language reinforcing and even strengthening gun owners’ rights under the 2nd Amendment while part of its title referred to it as a law designed to protect those rights. Additionally, it exempted private sales and transfers between friends, family members and others from its coverage. Although an expanded background check system does not equate to a gun registry, the bill also specifically and clearly prohibited the creation and maintenance of such registries. Also, any additional government regulation and cost would have been insignificant since you would only be expanding a system already required in sales by federally licensed firearms sellers. After all, a little additional cost and paperwork is a small price to pay for a law that could ultimately save lives.
I appreciate the reality that a vote on such important legislation most often boils down to politics as usual and following the party line. However, in the wake of Sandy Hook, and in light of the staggering level of gun violence throughout our country, this bipartisan effort presented a unique opportunity for senators to overlook the special interests as well as their own political self-interest and to do the right thing by using common sense and voting their conscience. If the citizens of this state had been polled on this issue, there is no reason to believe that the results would have been any different from what most polls showed, that anywhere from 80 to 90 per cent or more favor expanded background checks for commercial gun sales. What was the motivation for a senator from such a modern and progressive state as Wisconsin for ignoring that reality and voting against what was so clearly in the public interest?