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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Bret Matthew/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Bret Matthew/The Hoot

A convicted felon with a history of mental instability walks into a gun show. He goes up to an assault weapons vendor, and buys two automatics, one semi-automatic, and a couple of handguns. Do you really want to hear what happens next?

If not, then you’re like the many Americans who want the gun show loophole closed once and for all. The gun show loophole, interestingly enough, is not actually centered around gun shows. Instead, it is the fact that a private seller can sell guns to anyone without a background check. More often than not, these exchanges happen at gun shows.

Thus, anyone can buy a gun from anyone with no regulation whatsoever due to this loophole. Failure to have background checks performed before the transference of a highly lethal weapon is like striking matches over a barrel of gunpowder, but it has nevertheless been supported by a spirited minority.

In determining the solution to this problem, one must take into account which resolution would be most beneficial to society. The best way to ensure the safety of society while protecting the right of the common people to defend themselves is to require that all gun vendors perform background checks before any weapon transaction can take place.

There are those who are gunning for fewer background checks because they see them as a violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. This argument, no matter how necessary a restriction of gun rights is, will always come into play with a proposed restriction. If a bullet was developed that would seek out human flesh when fired, somebody would argue that it should be sold without restriction because of the Second Amendment.

The first fallacy of this defense is that those who claim that the Constitution is a bulletproof document are inherently wrong because the purpose of the Constitution was not to cap change or muzzle dissent. There’s a reason that every amendment in the Constitution is called an amendment; it is a change, a proviso triggered by a problem Americans face. Thinking of the Constitution as an infallible document that cannot be changed in any way is fallacious–just ask any woman or African-American about the justice of the initial Constitution.

Thus, there is no need for this amendment to be taken as absolute law which cannot be tweaked in any way whatsoever. Compounding this inherent gap in logic is the fact that requiring background checks is only a logical restriction rather than completely shooting down the amendment.

Some may consider this restriction unreasonable, but I would like to think that preventing firearms which can take scores of lives in seconds from falling into the hands of felons and those deemed unstable provides its own argument.

There are some who say that even if this is a reasonable restriction, the fact that it in any way restricts the Second Amendment undermines the right and will trigger a slippery slope with a disarmed populace at the bottom. However, these arguers forget that restrictions of other amendments are already accepted in society.

For example, one cannot falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater and defend it as a protected right of free speech. Rights extend only so far as they don’t harm other people. I don’t hear anyone questioning this restriction of free speech, and yet similar arguments are made against requiring background checks.

Also, it’s not as if requiring background checks is a new idea. They’ve been required for decades by official gun vendors and also for interstate gun sales. This is not a new or even generally rejected idea. There is no large-scale political movement to ban background checks, and for good reason.

Finally, the opposition to the idea of having all transactions require a background check rather than just those at gun shops is not only mind-boggling, but unfair. Official gun vendors are restricted while anyone who brings their product to a gun show is not. It is unfair to require gun shop owners to perform background checks which cost them valuable time (and therefore revenue) while these private sellers are free to sell to whomever.

Therefore, with this solution, everyone wins. The gun shop owners get a fair deal. Society becomes safer as a whole. Ninety nine percent of people will be able to sleep easier knowing that this faction of society is prevented from acquiring deadly weapons. The only people who could be argued to lose out in this affair are felons and individuals deemed mentally unstable.

However, I would argue that this helps felons and the mentally unstable more than it hurts them. For felons, the lack of a firearm will most likely mean more time spent outside of prison, as even the presence of a gun is like a powder keg waiting to tear apart their new lives. As for the mentally unstable, the lack of a weapon will prevent them from becoming their own worst enemy.

Unless action is taken in the near future, stories of tragedies committed by felons or mentally unstable consumers will only multiply. Ironically, the longer the gun rights lobbyists are successful in fighting the closing of this loophole, the more ammo the opposing argument attains.

There are many who say that even the closing of this loophole is no silver bullet and will not prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. I am completely in agreement with them. However, this is a step in the right direction and it will do so by extending a policy that has been lauded by a majority–it’s too beneficial a reform to not give it a shot.

The debate for and against these measures will undoubtedly rage on but even as these words are written, weapons are falling into the wrong hands. It’s time to act lest society find itself at gunpoint any longer.