House Democrats have passed The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, HR. 8 which will require background checks for all transfers (sales, loans, etc.) of firearms with some minor exceptions. Advocates for gun control say the measure will make the public safer, while opponents say criminals and murders do not heed gun laws and the legislation will only infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“The purpose of this Act is to utilize the current background checks process in the United States to ensure individuals prohibited from gun possession are not able to obtain firearms,” the bill states.
If the bill is passed in the Senate and becomes law, it will make it illegal for anyone who doesn’t have their own Federal Firearms License (FFL) to obtain a firearm without having a background check conducted by a licensee for each sale/transfer.
An FFL is issued by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which enables a person or a company to engage in a business of importation or sale of firearms. Holding an FFL to do such business has been a legal requirement since the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968.
H.R. 8 would change the private party seller requirements, mandating that the seller go to the licensee’s business with the purchaser, and pay an unspecified fee. The FFL would then take the firearm and do the transfer and background check as if it were a firearm they were selling.
The requirement to have a background check conducted by an licensee would not apply to loans or gifts between relatives; passing down of firearms in case of death; transfers necessary to temporarily prevent imminent death or great bodily harm; people who have their own FFL; law enforcement, security guards, or military members who are carrying out their professional duties; National Firearms Act transfers, because they have their own ATF requirements and transfers only used at a shooting range or while hunting, fishing, or trapping, or while in the presence of the owner.
Supporters of the bill and gun control groups, like the Brady gun-control organization, say the measure will make it harder for criminals to get guns. The Brady organization cites the fact that about one in five gun sales are made without a background check because they transpire at gun shows, privately, and on websites.
“This strong new bill will prevent private firearm sales to prohibited purchasers, including those online and at gun shows,” states Brady.
However, opponents of H.R. 8 say studies point out that most criminals do not acquire their firearms legally, so expanding background check legislation would do little to curb gun violence. In addition, studies show that universal background checks have very little effect on crime or suicide rates.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) says there is evidence to suggest background checks “significantly” stop criminals from carrying out acts of gun violence.
“There is no reason to continue to make it easy for people who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms to acquire them. And the evidence clearly shows that background checks work and significantly curb gun violence,” Nadler said in a press statement about HR. 8.
Opponents say universal background checks would infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, because it would require private citizens wanting to bear arms to first pay for potentially expensive background checks from federal firearms licensees.
The bill would also make potential felons out of gun owners if, for example, a son paid his father for his gun, since only gifts are exempt from background checks.
Heritage Foundation legal fellow Amy Swearer recently said during an interview that the Biden administration’s gun control agenda, in particular the universal background checks legislation, would impose significant burdens on low-risk temporary transfers.
“Effectively, anytime someone other than you wants to touch your gun, for whatever limited period of time you have to do a background check, and you’re more likely to actually make felons of law-abiding citizens than to stop any criminal from getting guns that way.”
Opponents also say the universal background checks are a federal government overreach and an indirect way to keep a registry of gun owners and their firearms.
“All of the tragedies we’ve seen, whether it’s Parkland or Sutherland Springs, or the Thousand Oaks tragedy or Sandy Hook, none of those would have been prevented by H.R. 8,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said in 2019 before voting on the bill for the first time.
“So, we have to ask ourselves the question: If we’re going to infringe on people’s liberties, what are we doing it for? It’s not going to do any good if it’s not going to actually prevent tragedies. Why are we infringing on people’s liberties?”