The Missoula City Council is considering an ordinance that would require background checks for purchases at gun shows, which is a fine idea likely to run into some problems in practice. Definitely, we should do something about gun violence. As of last month, the United States was averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2015, which seems excessive. Maybe we could have a good, free society and still go 24 hours without using a firearm to shoot more than three people at a time. If Missoula’s proposed background check ordinance will help with that, I’m all for it.
But I am concerned the ordinance in question will not help. Currently, federal law requires background checks for gun purchases at licensed dealers—including the 50 within Missoula city limits1—but not at gun shows. That’s a bad loophole, and Congress should close it. As you may have heard, though, Congress has a hard time passing gun control legislation, even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted last year found that 92% of gun owners support this particular measure.
But the NRA is against it, so it’s a dead letter. The plan to use municipal governments to pass a law Congress will not seems like a good solution, but cities lack the scope to make such ordinances meaningful. The next Ravalli County Gun Show is scheduled for December, a mere 50 miles from Missoula. A background check ordinance seems unlikely to guarantee that felons and the mentally ill won’t be able to buy guns; it will only guarantee that they buy them outside Missoula.
Meanwhile, it will generate as much ill will among pro-gun activists as any other measure that makes it harder to buy firearms. For the first time in my life, I am against a proposed gun control law. You can read about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which is the kind of nuanced argument guaranteed to alienate everybody. That’s pretty much my niche. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, unless somebody arbitrarily decides to kill me by pressing a button on a machine anyone with $400 can buy.