Senator Tom Coburn, a staunch conservative with impeccable “pro gun” credentials, has done us all a tremendous service: He has effectively demolished many of the arguments coming from the right against expanded background checks.
Coburn has sent a letter to his Senate colleagues making the case that his proposal for expanded background checks is better than the one produced by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey. But in the process of defending his own proposal from the inevitable claims by fellow conservatives that it would violate people’s Second Amendment rights, he effectively destroys that same argument as it is being applied to the Manchin-Toomey proposal.
Coburn’s letter argues against the Manchin-Toomey proposal by claiming its record keeping provisions — and its call for a fee to be paid for the background checks — are too burdensome on the law-abiding. He pitches his own plan, which would expand background checks to virtually all private sales without record keeping and without a need to go to a Federal Firearms Licensee to get checks done. Look how he defends his own proposal:
As a firm believer of the 2nd Amendment, I support the reasonable expansion of National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks into secondary and private markets for the purpose of keeping firearms out of the wrong hands … unlike retailers, we as private citizens have no tool to know if the purchasers of our weapons in secondary markets (such as gun shows, flea markets, and through internet advertisements) are on the prohibited list. [...]
To my colleagues that say any reform dealing with gun laws is an infringement on the 2nd Amendment, then I welcome a debate on your amendments to repeal the 1993 Brady Bill…If prohibited people are not going to comply with any law we pass, then why should Congress make an effort to improve the reporting of disqualifying records to NICS. The more than $1 billion in federal tax dollars spent on creating and maintaining the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is rendered useless when a prohibited purchaser can just as easily procure a firearm from a gun show or an internet marketplace without a NICs check as they can at gun stores.
And there you have it. One of the staunchest pro gun lawmakers in the Senate has just confirmed that background checks are good for law abiding gun sellers who don’t want to sell to prohibited people. He has just shown that the argument that expanding background checks is unconstitutional is completely incoherent unless you also believe the current background check system is unconstitutional and support repealing it.
He has knocked down one of the silliest arguments of all — “criminals won’t obey the law, and criminals won’t submit to background checks, so why expand them?” — by pointing out that if you believe this, it would be folly to support improving data sharing within the current system, as many Republicans do in lieu of expanding it. After all, why do that, if criminals won’t submit to background checks? And he’s knocked down that talking point by also pointing out that the very reason criminals can continue to avoid submitting to background checks — and continue disobeying the law by procuring guns as prohibited people — is that the loophole enables them to do so more easily.
Thank you, Senator.
UPDATE: A PDF of Coburn’s full letter to colleagues is right here.