The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 26, 2013

Our View: Background checks are reasonable

The Free Press

— Minnesota legislators opposing background checks for gun buyers seem to be creating a disconnect from the people who, in poll after poll, show widespread support for background checks.

In Minnesota, one proposed expansion of background check legislation would involve only two types of guns -- handguns and semi-automatic. It would basically require one class of sellers -- known as private sellers -- to follow the same rules as licensed dealers at gun shows. These private sellers could still sell guns to anyone without a background check practically anywhere else other than a gun show.

It seems that the expansion of this law could not be any smaller. Yet, even that minor change or expansion in background checks barely passed a House committee last week.

The legislation would simply require a person interested in buying a handgun or semi-automatic at a gun show from a private seller to get a background check from law enforcement in the same way they would have to do if they were to buy from a licensed dealer at the same show.

Opponents make many arguments against this small expansion. Many of them are mostly true. The expansion would not lower crime, they say. Probably right. It wouldn't stop criminals from getting illegal guns. Probably also mostly true. But these positions are not absolute and are mostly not the point.

One has to accept the logic that it is quite possible these kind of background checks could prevent one crime, and could prevent one criminal from getting a gun. Just one.

Opponents of background checks will grudgingly admit this usually, but argue it is not worth "restricting the rights" of others for saving just one crime or preventing one potential shooter from doing harm. The answer changes a bit if we posit that the "one" person prevented from killing attacked a family member or 20 kids in a schoolroom.

We balance the rights and responsibilities of a civil society every day. Even our right of free speech has been restricted from time to time. One cannot yell fire in a crowded theater without some consequence.

Likewise, we have gun laws. The background check laws already exist.

Opponents will also argue that one small restriction will allow the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. They argue once we allow one small expansion of a background check law, for example, a national gun registry is next. But history has not proven this to be the case. In fact, the last time we greatly expanded restrictions on gun rights -- the assault weapons ban in the 1990s -- we eventually let that expire.

The small expansion in background checks approved by the Minnesota House public safety committee last week was very small and reasonable given the times in which we live.