Fact Check: The Gun Registry Red Herring

Why does Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, claim that Obama wants a national federal registry for guns?

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

A customer shops for a gun at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store in Tinley Park, Ill., Jan. 19, 2013.

One week after the White House launched a new debate over guns in America, the discussion is already running off the rails. Not only do the two sides disagree on the proper regulation of guns, they also disagree on what they are disagreeing over.

Consider the following passage from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, who spoke Tuesday in response to President Obama’s inaugural address.

Obama wants you to believe that putting the federal government in the middle of every firearm transaction — except those between criminals — will somehow make us safer. That means forcing law-abiding people to fork over excessive fees to exercise their rights. Forcing parents to fill out forms to leave a family heirloom to a loved one — standing in line and filling out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork, just so a grandfather can give a grandson a Christmas gift. He wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry. There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners —to tax them or take them.

Obama has not proposed a federal gun registry, which is currently barred under federal law. But LaPierre’s words–part fact, part falsehood, part paranoia–require careful parsing.

First the background: On January 16, Obama proposed a number of new gun control measures, including a new requirement “to require background checks for all firearm sales, with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes.” The existing background check system requires the buyers of guns from licensed dealers to have their identities checked against an FBI database, called the NICS, to make sure they are neither felons nor mentally unfit under federal law. No records of buyer names or identities are retained. Under the White House proposal, all gun sales, including flea market, gun show and private sale would have to include a NICS check.

But the White House has clearly said Obama wants to carve out an exception for “cases like certain transfers between family members.” Though the specifics have yet to be unveiled, the Christmas gift from grandpa to grandson that LaPierre describes is unlikely to require a background check for the grandson.

So why does LaPierre claim that Obama wants a national federal registry for guns?

A spokesman for the NRA points me to comments that Obama made as a state senator in 2001, in an interview with the Chicago Defender. “Too many of these guns end up in the hands of criminals even though they were originally purchased by people who did not have a felony,” Obama said then. “I’ll continue to be in favor of handgun law registration requirements and licensing requirements for training.”

There is no record that Obama ever proposed such a registry on the federal level. In fact, during his first national campaign in January of 2008, Obama was asked about a federal firearm registry during a debate, and he basically ruled it out.

Question: Senator Obama, when you were in the state senate, you talked about licensing and registering gun owners. Would you do that as president?

Obama: I don’t think that we can get that done. But what I do think we can do is to provide just some common-sense enforcement.

The day after the President’s gun control proposal was released this month, the NRA’s lobbying wing posted a fact sheet about private gun sales and registration on its website. The fact sheet did not claim that Obama had proposed a federal firearm registry. But it did include this passage:

Is it reasonable to conclude that gun control supporters believe that subjecting all firearm sales to NICS is a necessary step in the direction of gun registration? And, if so, that they see registration as a prerequisite to the confiscation or some or all guns?

In 1976, the chairman of the National Council to Control Handguns—later renamed Handgun Control, Inc. and now known as the Brady Campaign—said: “The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition—except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors—totally illegal.”

In short, the NRA is making a slippery slope argument: If you allow the existing background check system to be expanded to private gun sales, then you are nearing a point where all gun owners could be registered, and all guns could be confiscated. Indeed some members of the Senate, most notably California‘s Dianne Feinstein, have sought to create registration systems for gun owners, though these plans have not been endorsed by Obama. The only problem is that LaPierre didn’t make a slippery slope argument on Tuesday. Instead he said the President, “wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry,” a sentence that has nothing to do with the President’s proposals, but drives at the heart of fears among gun owners.

This sort of deception is common in national politics. Obama won reelection in part by falsely claiming that Mitt Romney wanted to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest, even though Romney repeatedly said he supported allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest. But frequency does not make deception any less abhorrent.

One interesting side note: There is actually common ground between the NRA and the White House on the issue of expanding background checks. When I talked to NRA President David Keene about the possibility of expanding background checks to unlicensed dealers at gun shows, he was open to the possibility. According to the most recent study by the National Institute of Justice, about 4% of gun purchases in 1993 and 1994 came through gun shows and flea markets. Another 17% of guns were acquired from members of the family, and 12% came from friends or acquaintances.   So requiring background checks at gun shows could be a starting point for compromise, but it would only affect a sliver of gun sales.

The White House has not yet spelled out how the friend-to-friend gun sale background checks would be handled, but has suggested that licensed dealers can act as middlemen. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms plans to send a letter to firearms dealers giving them guidance on the best practices for facilitating sales between two other parties.

52 comments
JerryCarmineCote
JerryCarmineCote

This is typically how an NWO mouthpiece like Time would operate.  He never explicitly said he wanted (insert form of tyranny X here,) therefore he isn't trying to get X.  Pay no attention to the myriad of rules that take us two-thirds of the way to X, while never speaking X's name directly - cuz you're a racist if you talk about that.  It doesn't get more cynical than this.

JoeJoe1
JoeJoe1

That is what Hitler told the Jews in 1930's Germany.  We know how registration works.  It ALWAYS leads to confiscation and then genocide.  So cut the BS.  We know the democrats and RINO's want to destroy the People.  History teaches us better than the public schools.  Get it?

drewcwarner
drewcwarner

Regardless of where people stand on this issue (and for full disclosure purposes, I myself am a CCW licensee and strong supporter of gun rights), I'd like to send my appreciation to the article's author for presenting a fairly balanced opinion piece on this divisive issue.


There were several points in this article that presented themselves as a balanced approach to the truth (mentioning Mr. La Pierre's innaccurate accusations, whilst also mentioning President Obama's against Mr. Romney).  Listing the motivations of various key players on both sides of the debate with accuracy was another indicator.  In addition, it appears that the author did his homework and cited quotations properly.


It's quote refreshing to see an intelligently written piece in a firebrand debate, no matter it's stance.  Well done sir, please keep up the good work.

drewcwarner
drewcwarner

correction:  "...quite refreshing."  My apologies.  When it's the right spelling of the wrong word, spell-check will let you make an ass of yourself just fine I suppose.  *shrug* .  ; )

ElisaLynn
ElisaLynn

what makes you think they aren't working to remove guns from gang members?

SouthernCross
SouthernCross

No where in all of this hoopla do I see a single bit about going after the real drivers of gun violence, The Gangs. Maybe this is not Politically Correct, But if you take the firearms away from the Gang members Gun violence will drop precipitously. Most gang members have felony convictions, therefore are not eligible to legally own guns. But I guess this is far to common sense for the Gun Grabber radicals who are raising such a fuss. NO FAR BETTER to interfere in law abiding Citizens gun dealing

saiditandmeantit
saiditandmeantit

If I want to sell my property to my neighbor or a friend I should not have to go through a third party and a FFL to sell or even give a firearm to them. 2nd: registries have proven not to do anything for crime, so why waste the time, money and personal just so the government can track whose got what at every house. Ask England and Australia how their firearms got confiscated.

teampapi
teampapi

We have many laws in place now that end up being just a slap on the wrist and mostly ineffective. And please tell when when the government has actually followed its own laws? America trains and arms more people in this world than any other country. OUR government peddles guns out the backdoor all the time to foreign countries, extremist groups, etc.... Most of the wars we fought are against people we have armed and trained to a degree. And every time I purchase a weapon, I fill out a form that goes to a government agency. If you really think they don't collect and store that info, federal law or not, you're naive. Google admits that 2/3rd's of our emails get filtered through a government agency. You really think they will read our emails but not store info that filters through their database about weapons? Not a huge crazy conspiracy theorist at all..... I just use common sense.

FernandoPoo
FernandoPoo

First off, there is legitimacy to the "slippery slope" arguments.  By bringing the question to light, the NRA can help the public to keep Obama accountable.  Second, this article airs it as "does Obama WANT..." and then argues it with "what Obama does".  Notice that Obama says "I don't think we can get that done".  That's acknowledgement of a political reality, but it doesn't address what his ultimate goals (or "wants") are.


If you're gonna "fact check", then pick which fact you are going to check... and check it.

12rmp123
12rmp123

Before any legislation is passed, can we at least agree that any legislation, especially any pieces that play with people's expicitly recognized rights, must offer some benefit?

MrObvious
MrObvious

The argument among people who doesn't want to do anything is that hard long term projects don't yield perfect results so don't do them.

That defies of course all other countries that do similar things and yield good (not perfect) long term goals. When did USA become the can't do country? When it somehow benefits all citizens and doesn't perfectly line someones pockets?


roknsteve
roknsteve

Everything the NRA says is a version of "Ther gonna tak er guns".  

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

What's most troubling is the correlation between paranoid beliefs and a fascination with guns in the first place. THAT'S the elephant in the room.


Spencer60
Spencer60

What you people are missing is that there is no 'loophole' in background checks to begin with... 

Federal law leaves whether private transfers need a background check to the states. Some states have implemented background check while others have not seen a need to. 

The Department of Justice has even looked at the matter and, and determined that less than 5% of all 'crime guns' were purchased through private transfers. 

The vast majority of criminal firearms are acquired through burglary and the use of 'straw purchasers', people with clean records who knowingly purchase a firearm for a prohibited person. 

This is already a crime, but the police (specifically the BATFE) very rarely prosecutes these cases, so there is little deterrent. 

Once again, the gun control lobby and it's media lapdogs would rather impose restrictive new laws on honest American citizens than actually enforce a law against criminals that we already have on the books.

That really defines this whole 'conversation' on gun control, doesn't it?




bobell
bobell

I can understand LaPierre's concerns. After all, state governments require registration of motor vehicles, and hust look at all the confiscatory raids that have been staged on poor, innocent car owners trying to exercise their right of free movement under the Constitution. First they came for the cars, then the guns.  Next they'll be confiscating stock certificaties, which of course have to be registered with the issuing companies.  Eventually they'll confiscate all voters, since voters must register.  Slippery slope indeed!

If you took away LaPierre's straw men, he'd have nothing left.