Although they decided to forgo a people’s veto of constitutional carry, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his legion of minions have not yet given up on Maine. Rather than attempting to override legislation passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner, Bloomberg’s followers have vowed to bring a referendum on so-called universal background checks to the ballot in 2016.
Background checks only occur now if one purchases a gun from a federally licensed firearm dealer. If you go to Cabela’s or L.L. Bean to buy a gun, they will run a check on you using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This check determines whether you can legally own a firearm, and it is supposed to take only minutes (though it can take days). These same requirements do not apply to private sales, and in theory universal background checks would simply expand these background checks to private sales.
While this may seem, on the surface, to be a good idea, in practice the concept falls apart. For one thing, NICS is a criminal database; while it would bar those who have been committed to mental institutions, it would not raise red flags on many, less serious mental health issues. For another, since private citizens do not have access to NICS, in order to complete private gun sales one one would have to route through a dealer. Mandating universal background checks would, in other words, basically ban all private gun sales. It would be like requiring you to go to a dealership to sell your car.
Additionally, routing all gun sales through a federal database would be essentially setting up a national gun registry. Advocates will claim that this is not their intent, but in fact it is the next logical step and the only way to truly enforce universal background checks. Moreover, in a country where the federal government pries into your private data on your cell phone unconstitutionally without a warrant, does anyone really think the government won’t create a gun ownership database, with or without a law authorizing it?
Of course, this referendum is especially ridiculous and unnecessary in Maine. We are fortunate to live in a state with a long tradition of responsible gun ownership and little violence. Maine is currently tied for sixth fewest gun murders in the country — even though 40.5 percent of the state’s residents own firearms and we have some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation.
We’re not alone in that. Iowa, North Dakota and Utah have a similar rate of gun ownership and similarly low levels of gun murders. Indeed, examining the the rate of gun murders by state, one wonders why gun-control advocates aren’t pushing for this legislation in high-murder states like Maryland, rather than in Maine. Of course, the explanation is that this isn’t about preventing crime, but making a political statement. They want a political win in a rural state with loose gun laws, and they see Maine as an easy target.
The truth is that there isn’t proof that universal background checks reduce gun murders. The six states that have implemented versions of this legislation so far all have higher rates of gun murder than Maine, so why should we want to emulate them? The answer is, we shouldn’t. Maine shouldn’t abridge the constitutional rights of its residents to satisfy a billionaire from out of state. We don’t need special interests from away trying to solve problems we don’t have. If it appears on the ballot next November, say no to Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state policies, and say yes to Maine’s lengthy history of low crime and responsible gun ownership.