Manchin-Toomey Bill: A Tale of Bipartisan Gun Control That Will Still Miss the Mark


For Americans on both sides of the gun control debate, today marks a momentous occasion and opportunity for politicians on both sides of the isle to get gun control right. Senators Manchin (D-W.V.) and Toomey (R-Penn.) have worked very hard to create a universal background check (UBC) bill that will make both sides happy. Regardless of ideology, this is a feat not usually seen in D.C.

Thus far, attempts to pass more serious and restrictive legislation like a renewed 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and restrictions on magazine size have come up short in the Senate, and for good reason  they are bad for reelections. With that said, while gun control of ANY kind is never a welcomed subject with gun owners, UBCs can be objectively viewed as step in the right direction as far as "logic" is concerned. However, despite using logic, the details released thus far indicate Congress has once again failed to create a piece of legislation voters on both sides of the isle, will be happy with, much less one that actually reduces gun violence. 

Let's look at the best and worst components of the bill being presented and evaluate:

1. Impose penalties on states that do not add records of felons and the mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check:

GOOD. One of the biggest issues with the current NICS system is that many states barely report any of their criminal data to the ATF. The system will not work, for anyone, if the information is not constantly updated and all states held accountable for people slipping through the cracks.

The only foreseeable issue with this recommendation is the mental health component. Yes, there is no doubt keeping tabs on the mentally ill is hands down the most important measure in preventing massacres like those in Connecticut and Colorado, and is "common sense"; however, what criteria is being used to define "mentally ill?" Are politicians allowed to defined what constitutes "mentally ill" or are they defining mental illness using an already established criteria used by psychiatrist and other mental health providers, like the DSM-IV (soon to be V), the gold standard for mental health diagnoses?

If no such standard is cited, what is to stop any future leader from saying people who believe in X,Y, or Z are crazy and mentally ill ... therefore those of you found to be associated with said groups, people, or ideals are not fit to own guns and the government is coming for those that do?

Once again, some people will say, "that would never happen in America," or "the NRA and gun owners are crazy and paranoid." Really? If they are truly "crazy" according to those in power, and said leaders define mentally ill, then the NRA and gun owners have every right to be concerned about a lack of definition or standard of "mentally ill" in this bill, if one truly does not exist. 

2. Expand background checks to purchases made at gun shows and online sales of firearm:

BAD. Why? Online sales are already regulated by the ATF. The ATF already has regulations in place that address out-of-state purchases, which the majority of online purchases are. And yes, some online sales may be in state, and technically could made in private; however, current laws already specify the seller can make the sale if "he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law."

"A person not licensed under the GCA and not prohibited from acquiring firearms may purchase a firearm from an out-of-State source and obtain the firearm if an arrangement is made with a licensed dealer in the purchaser’s State of residence for the purchaser to obtain the firearm from the dealer." [18 U.S.C. 922(a)(3) and 922(b)(3)]

Also, despite Obama's outdated facts, the majority of sales at gun shows are through established federal firearms license holders (FFLs), who by law, already have to run background checks for all of their sales. 

3. Prevent the government from creating a registry system from the sales of firearms:

FABULOUS. There is just one issue: such a law already exists. The Firearms Owner Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) already bars the federal and state government(s) from logging data on guns and their owners:

"No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established."

Per usual, no one in D.C. has bothered to even read the laws on the books, and once again, redundant legislation is made that in all likelihood conflicts with the original laws and does nothing to change the status quo. 

Not to mention that FOPA is already ignored by a multitude of states and the ATF. Maryland, California, New York, New Jersey, and many more states openly admit that they have referencable databases that track some or all gun transactions, licenses, owners, etc. Maryland alone  has a database that tracks all handgun and assault rifle purchases and the owner's information, which has already been in place for many years. 

So what will change with this bill to make states like Maryland change their ways? Better yet, what are the penalties for states or agencies that break this already-established law? 

While this bill may "appear" to be a step in the right direction, it is nothing more than current laws being reworded and passed to make it look like Obama, Democrats, and Republicans are "doing something" about gun violence. This bill will do nothing more than confuse gun owners and FFLs and lead to innocent gun owners being charged for violating one (or more) of the thousands of gun laws already on the books and rewritten a million times.

All Congress has to do is extend access to the NCIS system to private sellers via phone, internet, etc., and provide them with a reference number to keep for their records. Combined with penalizing states for not submitting data, a bill of this nature would face little resistance from anyone. But as usual, Congress has failed the American people yet again, and criminals will still have little difficulty buying their weapons outside of the law, as they always do. Law-abiding citizens pay the price.