As a note, I think it is more effective to refer to "criminalizing private sales or transfers" than "opposing universal background checks." Who could be against background checks (see Joe's fisking of the idea here), right? Control the language to control the debate. This is long but I am saturating reps with multiple letters; some are short "OPPOSE THIS!" type postcards and some are longer. I'm sure I'm on the "ignore" or "we're sick of this guy" list but I am not letting up the heat from the soap box.
I am writing in regard to gun control legislation (S 54, among other measures) which is under consideration in the US Senate. I urge you to oppose criminalizing private sales of firearms, whether as a standalone measure or an amendment.
Nobody wants lunatics or criminals to acquire deadly weapons. However, criminalizing private sales is a poor way to accomplish this objective that substantially burdens law abiding citizens.
Our current background check system is ineffective. The US DOJ in 2010 reported that 76,142 background checks were denied and referred to the FBI for action. Of these, only 4,732 were passed to ATF for action as legitimate denials. ATF field officers then declined 4184 cases (about 9/10). US Attorneys referred charges in only 62 cases, and a whopping total of 13 guilty verdicts were delivered. There is no point in adding new laws until we can enforce the ones we already have.
Next, it is unclear how a revised background check system would make any difference. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (a government research agency), after passage of the Brady background check act, 35% of federal violent inmates got their gun from a straw purchase, which is already a felony for the buyer and the seller. Other top sources included "drug dealers" (15%) and "fence or black market" (9%) and "theft" (9%). Only 2% were acquired at gun shows or flea markets. Trafficking guns via straw purchases, drug dealers, or other black market means is already a serious felony, one which the ATF apparently decides not to prosecute as shown by the figures above. The criminals are already ignoring laws; why would criminalizing private sales affect them in the least? States which have done this have not found any positive impact whatsoever with regard to criminal access to firearms.
Criminalizing private sales will have a significant impact on many Alaskans. Rural citizens often live in communities where there are no Federal Firearms Licensees. How is a law abiding citizen in a rural area supposed to transfer a firearm to a personal friend or family member with no FFL available? If only one or two FFLs are available, it is obvious that the fee charged for a transfer (now typically $25-100) will skyrocket if there are no other lawful options. It is absurd to criminalize transferring a firearm to a family member, hunting partner, or neighbor.
There are also significant issues for military families. Under the Gun Control Act, it is unlawful for even a Federal Firearms Licensee to transfer a handgun to someone who is not a resident of their state unless they are on active duty "permanent change of station" military orders. There is no provision for military dependents. Legislation being contemplated would feasibly make it a crime for a military member (resident of Alaska or on PCS orders to Alaska) to leave their handgun in a safe accessible to their spouse (resident of a different state). The ATF already applies such strict possession rules to Class 3 firearms.
While I do not think it would be effective in curbing crime, I would support allowing any person to access the NICS database. I personally do not want to sell a firearm to a prohibited person and I would take advantage of the opportunity to access NICS if it were free to do so. I do not support criminalizing all private transfers or requiring de facto registration of all sales via the Form 4473, however,
I am a registered Alaska voter and I vote in all primary and general elections. I urge you to oppose criminalizing the private transfer of firearms.