March 29, 2018 Reading Time: 3 minutes
One of the most worrisome trends in the current NICS system is the generation of false positives, where law-abiding citizens are mixed and matched with criminals. (FBI)

DC swamp dwellers pulled a fast one on gun owners last week.

In the massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, congressional leaders were able to tack on gun-control legislation at the last minute. Crafted in response to the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs shootings, Fix NICS aims to shore up various flaws in the current National Instant Criminal Background Check System that political elites believe contributed to the aforementioned tragedies.

And with a stroke of his pen, President Donald Trump signed into law arguably the biggest expansion of gun control at the federal level since the 1994 Brady Act. Congressional leaders like Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) received major praise for working across the aisle to shepherd this legislation through Congress.

But is the passage of Fix NICS worthy of such acclaim? At first glance, a heathy degree of skepticism is warranted. Following every perceived crisis, politicians frantically scramble to “do something” in order to win approval in the court of public opinion. Great optics, however, do not necessarily translate into sound policy-making, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects like gun control.

Although not as far-reaching as many pro-gun advocates feared, Fix NICS still lays the groundwork for potential abuses at the federal level, which include:

  • The creation of a national database of law-abiding gun owners by having local- and state-government entities share data with the feds.
  • A reinstatement of the Obama-era Social Security Gun Ban that puts the rights of 4 million Americans in jeopardy.
  • The maintenance of dangerous gun-free zones at schools and ineffective security practices that leave youths vulnerable to deranged shooters.

No matter how inefficient, DC politicians have an infatuation with “fixing” or “streamlining” bureaucracies that clearly fail in achieving their objectives. And when these agencies are successfully “reformed,” they yield even worse results, with politicians and the public clamoring for more action.

The law of unintended consequences remains strong, and economist John Lott demonstrates how background checks have very little effect on reducing crime rates, but expanding them comes with a whole new set of problems. One of the most worrisome trends that Lott has exposed in the current NICS system is the generation of false positives, where law-abiding citizens are mixed and matched with actual criminals and could be stripped of their right to bear arms.

But for the anti-gun crowd, Fix NICS does not go far enough. Public figures like former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are now calling for a complete repeal of the Second Amendment. In addition, medical authorities have jumped in the fray, declaring gun violence a “public health crisis.”

While gun violence seems to be the flavor of the week in current media discussions, claims of an epidemic of school shootings taking place in the United States do not hold much water. Even progressive outlets are conceding this point and realizing that there is more to this story than meets the eye. John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime sheds light on how expanded gun ownership among law-abiding citizens has helped reduce overall crime over the past decades.

Instead of virtue signaling to constituents and turning to the federal government to solve every problem under the sun, policymakers should work to find more decentralized solutions. A sensible first step would be to de-federalize gun policy. Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, provides a nuanced take on how the issue is not so cut and dry.

Passing laws to arm teachers or completely ban guns, for example, misses the bigger picture: institutions should be allowed to determine how security services are provided and who can carry within their premises. State governments, municipalities, and schools themselves are better equipped to tailor security policies within their jurisdictions, not federal bureaucracies. US federalism should be applied to handle this matter, allowing states to compete with each other in the realm of policymaking.

Many will cheer the passage of Fix NICS, but those who understand the true impact of gun control will see it for what it is—another top-down solution from DC that does not address core issues concerning gun violence.

José Niño

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