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Oh Irony, Thy Name is NRA!

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( – promoted by lowkell)

Yesterday, in a Senate Courts of Justice committee meeting, Mr. Charles (Chuck) Cunningham, the top lobbyist for the NRA, rose to speak in favor of a bill dealing with technical issues relating to firearms background checks.  The bill, SB610 sponsored by Senator Cosgrove, was described as intending to supply more criminal history and protective order records to the Federal government for inclusion in the NICS background check database.

Mr. Cunningham made compelling and well-thought-out (but perhaps a little convoluted) arguments for sending such data to the NICS system. In theory, supplying this data would prevent Virginians with temporary prohibitions on purchasing firearms due either to juvenile crimes or behavior that resulted in them being named in a protective order, from buying firearms in other states.  This would include when a prohibited Virginian establishes a residence in another state and buys a handgun, or simply travels to another state and buys a shotgun or rifle, which can be sold across state lines in some cases. Cosgrove rightly pointed out that under the current system, Virginia State Police, who administer the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program (VFTP), do not share juvenile prohibition data or protective order information with the NICS system. Therefore, if a Virginian subject to one of these temporary prohibitions, attempts to buy a firearm in Virginia, the VFTP would catch them, prevent the sale and most likely prosecute them for lying on their application form.  But, if they tried the same purchase in another state, these prohibitions would not be detected and the sale would be allowed.

So far, I am sure you are thinking;  “this bill sounds like a good idea.” I agree, but let’s look at the situation more closely.

The first irony that we encounter is that the NRA has openly criticized the NICS background check in the media and even in U.S. Senate hearings. They have schizophrenically argued that the system is both too cumbersome, too intrusive and yet simultaneously too inefficient. They have also characterized the system as poorly administered and insufficiently enforced, citing the very low number of instances where denied purchasers are prosecuted under Federal Law – currently about 1 in 1,000! On the other hand, the VFTP results in ten times more prosecutions than the sum of all Federal prosecutions of ineligible buyers in all other states combined!  The irony is that while there are indeed some flaws in the NICS system, it can easily be shown that the vast majority of them result directly from interventions and advocacy carried out by – you guessed it – the NRA!

The second irony is that the VFTP program is extremely well run, extremely effective at monitoring gun purchases made in Virginia, and even provides rapid and effective response to VA gun owners that feel they have been wrongly denied a purchase. By contrast the NICS system takes anything up to 6 months to even acknowledge an appeal made to them over any potential wrongful denial. The VFTP system is so good in fact, that the FBI and the NICS administrations frequently cite Virginia’s system as an example of the gold standard to which other states should aspire.

Of course, the ultimate irony is only revealed when you realize that the bill being proposed has little to do with even the most compelling arguments that this would provide a slight benefit to other states. The real intention of the bill is to send so much data to the NICS system that the VFTP program would become redundant and therefore COULD BE ELIMINATED in the future!  

It is inconsequential to the NRA that Virginians subject to temporary prohibitions would effectively become prohibited for life due to the incredibly difficult and time consuming process of trying to remove data from the NICS system.  There are also other technical concerns with supplying this additional data to the Federal government, that arise from some data being “fingerprint based” and some being “name based”, all of which would contribute to more potential problems for Virginians, especially since the fingerprint data would then be available for use in many more criminal investigatory actions than it was originally collected for – not to mention potential difficulties this could create  with job or college applications, loans etc.  All these are things that the NRA would normally oppose!

The real reason that the VFTP is under attack by several gun groups, including the NRA, is that it is TOO EFFICIENT and catches and prosecutes too many potential gun buyers in Virginia that have no legal right to purchase or own guns. The net effect of this is to slightly reduce total gun sales in the Commonwealth – even though these sales continue to break records.

One final vexing question is this: why would the NRA be so concerned about rather obscure and unlikely instances of what they describe as “loopholes” in the current background check system?  These “so called” loopholes could, at least in theory, result in a few Virginians with temporary prohibitions being able to buy guns from licensed sellers in other states. However, we need to remember that the NRA spends an enormous amount of time, effort and money fighting against measures that would prevent a HUGE number of ineligible people from buying guns from unlicensed sellers, who now supply the vast majority of illegal owners, by opposing background checks on those sales.

Clearly the NRA is more motivated by gun sales volume, even if that volume is bolstered by sales to prohibited buyers, than it is by efforts to protect the public, by limiting access to deadly weapons by those prohibited buyers who are most likely to use them for harm.

Elimination of the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program would have no practical benefit for any Virginian. Relying on the NICS system alone would result in fewer prosecutions of ineligible buyers, when the NRA wants there to be more. It would result in more inconvenience to Virginians subject to temporary prohibitions on firearm purchase, who would still be prevented from buying even after their temporary prohibition periods had ended. By reducing prosecutions, of those lying on background check forms, it would encourage prohibited buyers to attempt to gain easy access to more firearms in the commonwealth and  it could result in an even greater flow of trafficked guns, both to Virginia’s own criminals and across state lines to criminals in other states.

Bill SB610 was a “LOSE, LOSE” proposition for Virginia and I am delighted to say that it was NOT reported by the committee. However, those who monitor what goes on at the Virginia General Assembly would do well to remember this bill and to stand guard against any future attempts to undermine, or compromise in any way, our exemplary Firearms Transaction Program.