House passes background checks bills; Feinstein preps new assault weapons ban

March 16, 2021

By

Matthew Hoy

Moving quickly on President Joe Biden's gun control agenda, the House of Representatives passed two bills that would make some of the stringent background check laws in place in Restricted States applicable nationwide.

Nationwide Universal Background Checks

The first bill, H.R. 8 - Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, requires residents of the same state who wish to transfer a firearm between themselves to instead transfer the firearm to a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder who will conduct a background check before allowing the transfer to happen.

Touted as a bill that would close a "loophole," the efficacy of the background check system to prevent crime is still unproven decades later. A recent survey by the Department of Justice of felons incarcerated for a crime where they possessed a gun revealed that background checks are unlikely to have a major impact on gun crime.

  • 43 percent got their gun on the underground market (read: stolen by other people)
  • 6 percent got the gun through theft (they stole it themselves)
  • 15 percent got the gun from family or friends
  • 11 percent got the gun through a straw purchase (already illegal)
  • 12 percent of the time someone else brought the gun to the crime scene
  • Only 10 percent bought the gun from a retail source

That last number is interesting, because it suggests that the existing background check system isn't as foolproof as it's often touted to be. That 10 percent either had no prior disqualifying legal or mental history, or the government agencies that were responsible for inputting that information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) failed to do so (see: Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charleston, S.C.).

In California, where universal background checks are already the law (and even more strict than the proposed federal law), the law requires FFLs to process these background checks and they can charge a nominal fee for this service. The bill passed through the House does not require FFLs to do this and provides no required payment for their time and effort in implementing this law.

Extending Background Check Wait Times

The other background check-related bill, H.R. 1446, extends the delay that the FBI is allowed to put on a firearm transfer when the instant check comes back as indeterminant. This can be due to a number of factors, but having a common name and birthday or birthdate shared with a disqualified criminal is perhaps the most frequent. Under current law, if the FBI cannot make a determination for eligibility in purchasing a firearm one way or the other, the FFL can transfer the gun to the buyer after three business days have passed.

This legislation would change that to up to 20 business days. The initial 3 day limit would be changed to 10. After that first ten, if the FBI still couldn't determine eligibility, then the buyer would have to submit a petition for "final firearms eligibility determination" and wait up to 10 more business days.

For some Americans, the instant background check would turn instead into a Kafkaesque, monthlong ordeal. A person purchasing a firearm on New Year's Eve may not be able to take possession of the gun until early February—largely because there are two federal holidays in January.

Both bills' prospects in the Senate are likely dependent on whether the Democrats decide to abolish the filibuster. It's unlikely that, even with some squishy Republicans in that chamber, the legislation will be able to overcome the 60-vote threshold required to break a filibuster.

Dianne Feinstein Preps New Assault Weapons Ban

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced that she intends to re-introduce a federal "assault weapon" ban. The bill, S. 736, does not yet have any legislative text but if her propaganda booklet from the last legislative session is any guide, then the ban would be so wide-ranging that even firearms currently legal in California, which has a very strict "assault weapons" ban would be illegal under Feinstein's new law.

If the new legislation mirrors Feinstein's failed legislation from last term, then rifles also wouldn't be the only arms affected. Feinstein is also targeting semi-automatic shotguns with tubes that hold more than five rounds—firearms that are a common sight in 3-Gun competitions.

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