Universal background checks make sense

Published 1:32 am Saturday, April 13, 2013

To the Editor:

I recently wrote Congressman Walter B. Jones asking if he would support legislation requiring universal background checks for firearms. In his reply to me of April 8, 2013, he stated: “Universal background checks would be in violation of the Constitution and would not stop criminals from obtaining firearms.” First of all, even if background checks would only partially stop criminals from obtaining firearms, that law would be a very significant benefit to the potential victim of a murderer who could not obtain a firearm as a result of a background check. It is ludicrous to suggest that a law should not be passed merely because it could not be 100 percent effective. Such a position would invalidate virtually all laws (e.g. drug-enforcement laws, Medicare fraud and the like).

However, of greater concern to me is the Congressman’s untrue statement that universal background checks would violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution. That’s a common argument, but the truth is the Supreme Court (in Heller V. District of Columbia) held that reasonable gun-safety restrictions do not violate the Second Amendment. As Congressman Jones well knows, the Supreme Court in Heller held that citizens do have the right to bear arms, with “limitations.” Gun advocates cite the Heller decision all the time with regard to its holding that the Second Amendment applies to citizens (and not just militias). Interestingly, many gun advocates, including Rep. Jones, then totally ignore the equally important language of the majority opinion written by conservative Justice Anthony Scalla: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. … Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

I have asked Congressman Jones to explain to me how firearms can be kept out of the hands of felons, mentally ill persons and others if there is no requirement for background checks. The answer is rather obvious and, not surprisingly, to date I have received no response.

Thomas E. Walker